When U.S. President Barack Obama went to Fort Campbell, Kentucky, for a highly publicized but very private meeting with the commando team that killed Osama bin Laden, only one of the 81 members of the super-secret SEAL DevGru unit was identified by name: Cairo, the war dog.
Cairo, like most canine members of the elite U.S. Navy SEALs, is a Belgian Malinois. The Malinois breed is similar to German shepherds but smaller and more compact, with an adult male weighing in the 30-kilo range. (66 lbs.)
German shepherds are still used as war dogs by the American military but the lighter, stubbier Malinois is considered better for the tandem parachute jumping and rappelling operations often undertaken by SEAL teams. Labrador retrievers are also favoured by various military organizations around the world.
Like their human counterparts, the dog SEALs are highly trained, highly skilled, highly motivated special ops experts, able to perform extraordinary military missions by SEa, Air and Land (thus the acronym).
The dogs carry out a wide range of specialized duties for the military teams to which they are attached: With a sense of smell 40 times greater than a human’s, the dogs are trained to detect and identify both explosive material and hostile or hiding humans.
The dogs are twice as fast as a fit human, so anyone trying to escape is not likely to outrun Cairo or his buddies.
The dogs, equipped with video cameras, also enter certain danger zones first, allowing their handlers to see what’s ahead before humans follow.
As previously mentioned, SEAL dogs are even trained parachutists, jumping either in tandem with their handlers or solo, if the jump is into water.
Last year canine parachute instructor Mike Forsythe and his dog, Cara, set the world record for highest man-dog parachute deployment, jumping from more than 30,100 feet up — the altitude transoceanic passenger jets fly at. Both Forsythe and Cara were wearing oxygen masks and skin protectors for the jump.
Here’s a photo from that jump, taken by Andy Anderson for K9 Storm Inc.
The dogs are faithful, fearless and ferocious — incredibly frightening and efficient attackers.
It has been reported that the teeth of SEAL war dogs are replaced with titanium implants that are stronger, sharper and scare-your-pants-off intimidating, but a U.S. military spokesman has denied that charge.
When the SEAL DevGru team (usually known by its old designation, Team 6) hit bin Laden’s Pakistan compound on May 2, 2011 Cairo’s feet would have been four of the first on the ground.
And like the human SEALs, Cairo was wearing super-strong, flexible body armor and outfitted with high-tech equipment that included “doggles” — specially designed and fitted dog goggles with night-vision and infrared capability that would even allow Cairo to see human heat forms through concrete walls.
Now where on earth would anyone get that kind of incredibly niche hi-tech doggie gear? From Winnipeg, of all places.
Jim and Glori Slater’s Manitoba hi-tech mom-and-pop business, K9 Storm Inc., has a deserved worldwide reputation for designing and manufacturing probably the best body armor available for police and military dogs. Working dogs in 15 countries around the world are currently protected by their K9 Storm body arm our
Jim Slater was a canine handler on the Winnipeg Police Force when he crafted a Kevlar protective jacket for his own dog, Olaf, in the mid-1990s. Soon Slater was making body armor for other cop dogs, then the Canadian military and soon the world.
The standard K9 Storm vest also has a load-bearing harness system that makes it ideal for tandem rappelling and parachuting.
Then there are the special hi-tech add-ons that made the K9 Storm especially appealing to the U.S. Navy SEALs, who bought four of K9 Storm Inc.’s top-end Intruder “canine tactical assault suits” last year for $86,000. You can be sure Cairo was wearing one of those four suits when he jumped into bin Laden’s lair.
Here’s an explanation of all the K9 Storm Intruder special features:
Just as the Navy SEALS and other elite special forces are the sharp point of the American military machine, so too are their dogs at the top of a canine military hierarchy.
In all, the U.S. military currently has about 2,800 active-duty dogs deployed around the world, with roughly 600 now in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Several of the photos included here are from the journal, "Foreign Policy". Other photos are from K9 Storm Inc. Here’s a photo essay about U.S. war dogs that appeared in "Foreign Policy."
The U.S. now treats its war dogs as full members of the military. At the end of the Vietnam War, the U.S. combat dogs there were designated as “surplus military equipment” and left behind when American forces pulled out.