DEPARTMENT OF THE ARMY
XVIII AIRBORNE CORPS
FORT BRAGG, NORTH CAROLINA
US ARMY CENTER OF MILITARY HISTORY
WASHINGTON, D. C.
OPERATIONS DESERT SHIELD AND DESERT STORM
Oral History Interview
DSIT AE 058
SSG James L. Leach
118th Military Police Company
Interview Conducted 8 February 1991 at XVIII Airborne Corps Main Command Post, Rafha, Saudi Arabia
Interviewer: SSG LaDona S. Kirkland, 116th Military History Detachment
OPERATIONS DESERT SHIELD AND DESERT STORM
7 August 1990 - 15 May 1991
Oral History Interview DSIT AE 058
SSG KIRKLAND: This is Staff Sergeant LaDona S. Kirkland of the 116 Military History Detachment. This tape is dedicated to the DESERT SHIELD/DESERT STORM era. I am interviewing James L. Leach. That's spelled J-A-M-E-S; middle initial L.; last name is spelled L-E-A-C-H. His is age is 34, his serial number is ***-**-****. He is with the 118th Military Police Company (Airborne) from Fort Bragg, [North Carolina]. His job title is Detector Dog Handler. We are conducting this interview in the M[ilitary] P[olice] Station at the [XVIII Airborne Corps Main] C[ommand] P[ost], Main, at Rafha, [Northern Province, Saudi Arabia].
Now, what is your primary mission here?
SSG LEACH: Our mission is to detect and deter. Basically as far as detection work, [it] is explosives coming into compound, infiltrators coming into the area, just people that don't belong in the area. We detect and deter them until a line military police unit can come and take them into custody.
SSG KIRKLAND: Okay. And you're a detector dog ... (excuse me) ... detector dog handler, and this is your dog here. And what type of dog is he?
SSG LEACH: He is a German Shepherd patrol detector.
SSG KIRKLAND: Okay. And how old is he?
SSG LEACH: Jupiter is now nine. He just turned nine years old in December.
SSG KIRKLAND: Okay. And that's about 63 dog years? I mean, human years?
SSG LEACH: Human years.
SSG KIRKLAND: Okay. So the dog has seven years for each ...
SSG LEACH: ... for each human year the dog ages seven years.
SSG KIRKLAND: Okay, great. And when did you arrive in this country?
SSG LEACH: I arrived in Saudi Arabia on 10 August.
SSG KIRKLAND: Alright. And when did the dog arrive, the same time?
SSG LEACH: He arrived with me. Everywhere we go, we travel as a team.
SSG KIRKLAND: Okay.
SSG LEACH: He appears on my orders. If we went TDY [temporary duty] some place, he would appear on my orders and documents. Whatever.
SSG KIRKLAND: Okay. Alright. Now, you said his name is Jupiter, and that's spelled J-U-P-I-T-E-R?
SSG LEACH: Correct.
SSG KIRKLAND: Okay, great. Now, so ... how did you deploy over here? Did you fly?
SSG LEACH: We came in on a commercial aircraft.
SSG KIRKLAND: So did he ... was he put in a cage or ...
SSG LEACH: Yeah. He's shipped in a military shipping crate which is almost his ... a portable kennel for him because that's what he lives in while we're en route.
SSG KIRKLAND: Okay. And how often does he eat a day?
SSG LEACH: He eats one time a day.
SSG KIRKLAND: And what does that usually consist of?
SSG LEACH: He's on 20 ounces of MSD. It's a multi-strength diet. It's a scientific formula that was made just for the government or the military working dogs. It contains all the medication and calories that a military dog needs to sustain himself in the field, as well as heartworm preventative and other medications to keep the dogs generally healthy.
SSG KIRKLAND: Okay. Now, nine years old for a dog seems pretty old. So do you think he's still capable of doing his job at nine years old?
SSG LEACH: Absolutely. Most dogs in the military now, they'll utilize a dog as long as ... for explosive detection or narcotics detection, any type of detection work, they'll utilize the dog as long as he maintains efficiency. Once his ... for drug dogs it's 90 percent, for explosive dogs it's 95 percent. Once they drop below that percentage for three consecutive months, they're decertified as a detector dog.
After they're decertified, they go through a period of retraining, at which time at the end of three months they'll try again for certification. If they don't meet certification standards at that time, they're permanently decertified as a detection dog and used in a patrol capacity. They'll keep them as a patrol dog as long as the dog is physically able to perform, basically as long as he can get in and out of vehicles, as long as he can attack, do aggression work the way they're supposed to for certification for patrol dogs.
If the dog no longer can do patrol certifications, then they'll turn around and decertify it as a patrol dog, at which time it's determined by that the dog is probably going to be euthanized. The military gives them the very best medical care that money can buy. A case in point is if we came under attack and I was incapacitated and the dog was incapacitated, they would medevac the dog first because the military places more value on him. It's harder to get a fully trained detector dog into the field than it is another handler.
SSG KIRKLAND: Now, you say he's very valuable. Could you give a dollar amount to this dog?
SSG LEACH: Base price coming out of school ... civilian police departments pay somewhere in the $30,000-plus for a fully-trained detector dog. Jupiter, if you take in consideration the amount of time, training, medical expenses, veterinary care, food and manpower hours that go into the dog, he's probably valued at about $75,000.
SSG KIRKLAND: Okay. What type of training did he go to?
SSG LEACH: All dogs in the military are currently trained at Lackland Air Force base in Texas. They are trained by Department of Defense training teams down there. He underwent patrol dog training first. Once he certifies as a patrol dog, they'll give him a certain test down there and see if he would be proficient as a detector dog.
If the dog shows a high searchability interest, then they'll go ahead and try him through a detector dog course. It's up to the dog psychologist at Lackland to determine whether the dog is going to be explosives or narcotics. It's an animal behavior team down in Lackland. They're the only ones that can select which dog will go through training.
SSG KIRKLAND: Okay. And how long is that training?
SSG LEACH: It depends. Dogs are like humans. Some are smart and some are a little bit slower to pick up. So it depends on the individual dog as far as the amount of training. Basic training for patrol work will last anywhere from eight to twelve weeks. For explosives detection work, anywhere from 12 to 26 weeks.
SSG KIRKLAND: Okay. And did you go through training with him?
SSG LEACH: No. When I got to Fort Bragg, Jupiter was already a certified bomb dog. I had to train up with him for a certain period of time until we won our board certification evaluation. And then once we went through certification, we had to certify together as a team before we could actually work explosives.
SSG KIRKLAND: And how long did it take you to certify as a team?
SSG LEACH: I was with Jupiter, a little less than six weeks because he's an outstanding dog, he already knew his job. Basically the first four weeks was just for the ability of getting him to work for me, to care enough about me to work with him on whatever was called for.
SSG KIRKLAND: Okay, all right. And what type of training did you go through together?
SSG LEACH: Together is just basic patrol. There's a whole range you have to certify in both patrol and in explosives aspects.
SSG KIRKLAND: Okay.
SSG LEACH: So everything for patrol work, you have to do certain standards such as a stand call, recall, search, attack, search, re-attack, bite work, basic obedience, obstacle course. That's all just under patrol work. Then when you go into explosives, there is a certain number of explosive aids that they set out. He was fine, 98.5 percent in five separate areas, the areas being aircraft, open area, warehouse, buildings such as barracks, and other large buildings such as theaters.
SSG KIRKLAND: Okay. He's only searching vehicles now, is that correct, here in Saudi Arabia?
SSG LEACH: No, he's also searching buildings. He's ... we're on call 24 hours a day. We've been called to search ships down in the port of [Ad] Dammam; we've searched headquarters buildings; we've searched conference areas where major conferences have gone on; we've searched vehicles at stationary checkpoints, we've searched the TOC [Tactical Operations Center] on a daily basis. So he's called upon for whatever they need for a search to be conducted.
SSG KIRKLAND: And what's your average hours each day together?
SSG LEACH: We live together 24 hours a day.
SSG KIRKLAND: Okay.
SSG LEACH: Okay, he stays in the same tent as I do. We live in a GP Small [General Purpose, Small tent], us and another five dog teams. So 24 hours a day we're ... . You have to maintain observation of the dog just in case he starts acting strange or if he got bitten. Jupiter has already been bitten by scorpions since we've been in country. So he needed emergency medical care. Things like that, you have to observe the dog.
You couldn't leave the dog unobserved several hours and come back, because if he got bit by a snake, he'd be dead and you'd be responsible. So, therefore, somebody must maintain observation. Even when they're in a garrison type environment like at Fort Bragg, you have a kennel maintenance person that his sole responsibility is hourly checks on the dogs to make sure everything is okay.
SSG KIRKLAND: Okay. And so you said there was a veterinarian here in country. How many veterinarians are there for the dogs?
SSG LEACH: How many vets? I couldn't tell you.
SSG KIRKLAND: Okay.
SSG LEACH: I know we've seen three different vets since we've been in country. There's a lot of units deployed. They had all the vets from Fort Bragg deployed over here as well. The veterinarian services also have a secondary mission of food inspection. They're mostly sent over as food inspectors to make sure that the water we're drinking is potable; the food we eat is good enough to eat. As far as medically, veterinarians strictly for animal care ... the Air Force has quite a few dogs in country as well as the Marines.
SSG KIRKLAND: Right.
SSG LEACH: The Army only has a few dogs in country, so we're more or less last on the list when it comes to veterinary care. We're more or less whatever vet we can find is which one we'll seek out for treatment.
SSG KIRKLAND: Okay. Let me rewind.
SSG KIRKLAND: This interruption was to shut off a generator that was making too much sound here.
Okay. What primarily is Jupiter searching for when vehicles come through to go through the gate?
SSG LEACH: Mostly explosives. We work together as a team. The dog searches for an explosive while at the same time the handler is looking for signs of tampering with the vehicle such as if there was a vehicle with a trunk, you would look for scratch marks around where normally a key would go in, somebody that would pry the trunk open would have to leave tell-tale signs.
The dog itself is looking at the undercarriage of the vehicle or places where explosives could be easily placed on the interior of the vehicle. Also we have the vehicles opened up because in Panama most of the vehicle car bombs that we found were placed in the floor board of the vehicle. So this allows the dog greater access and actually makes his job easier. So if you can allow him access inside of the vehicle, he would search the floor board, under the seats, underneath the dash board and some place else out of sight somebody may have placed an explosive device that the handler or the operator of the vehicle wouldn't be aware of.
SSG KIRKLAND: Has Jupiter found anything?
SSG LEACH: Yes. He's had one find in country. We found some explosives on a ship.
SSG KIRKLAND: And do you remember the name of the ship that you were on?
SSG LEACH: It was a Saudi Arabian commercial liner. I don't know the exact name.
SSG KIRKLAND: And how many explosives did he find in one area?
SSG LEACH: He just found the hull of the ship was rigged with explosives, and that was not consummated ... once the dog makes a find, we don't stay in the area to find out. We immediately mark the area and depart the area. Then we call EOD [Explosive Ordnance Demolition] and EOD gets paid to go down and check by themselves. We don't.
SSG KIRKLAND: Now, how do you know when he finds something? Does he bark at what he finds?
SSG LEACH: Jupiter is passive. He's passive alert, passive response, ball reward dog, which means he'll simply search an area. If he finds, and comes upon, a source of explosive odor, he simply stops working and sits down, which is unusual behavior. If you had the dog on a search pattern and all of a sudden he stops and sits down, that automatically tells the handler he's on that explosive device.
SSG KIRKLAND: Okay, great. And you had mentioned that there is another dog team here. Is there only two dog teams here with the XVIII Airborne Corps?
SSG LEACH: Apparently, yes.
SSG KIRKLAND: Okay. Do you think that's enough?
SSG LEACH: For the mission we're doing at this time, yes.
SSG KIRKLAND: Okay. And ...
SSG LEACH: Now, if our mission changes to POW operations or another type of deterrence, I couldn't say. It depends upon the area that they then want to concentrate on.
SSG KIRKLAND: Okay. And who is the other dog team with you?
SSG LEACH: The other dog team is Staff Sergeant Hayes and his dog, Rex. They're a team actually out of Fort Campbell, Kentucky.
SSG KIRKLAND: Okay. So did you know him before you even got here in country?
SSG LEACH: Yes. SSG Hayes and I went to a supervisor's course together down in Lackland.
SSG KIRKLAND: Okay. Do the dogs learn their commands only in English or do they learn other languages too?
SSG LEACH: It depends on where the dog was picked up and how he was trained. The Department of Defense buys a lot of dogs from Europe, so some of the dogs are on Dutch commands. Some will respond to German commands. Even though at DoD the only thing they teach is English commands, some of the dogs are ... once you get him out into the field, they'll still respond to either German or Dutch if you happen to know the right language.
SSG KIRKLAND: What does Jupiter know, English only?
SSG LEACH: English only. He was purchased here in the United States ... back in the United States, and all of his training was in English.
SSG KIRKLAND: Okay, great. And has he ever bitten you?
SSG LEACH: Yes. He bit me one time. We were doing gunfire training. He became agitated because he was still on a leash, couldn't get to these two attack subjects. So he bit me instead.
SSG KIRKLAND: So he will attack?
SSG LEACH: Yes. He'll attack automatically to gunfire. If I became under any type of aggression, any type of aggressive behavior [that] you would display, I would not have to give the dog a command. He would automatically attack.
SSG KIRKLAND: Okay. But is it your primary mission to protect him against any attack?
SSG LEACH: As far as weapons?
SSG KIRKLAND: Right.
SSG LEACH: It's up to ... the situation dictates whether you will release your dog or not. Obviously, if you've got machine gun fire or something pinning you down, you're not going to release your dog into open fire. If you're doing a flanking movement or something where the dog responds to an individual out ahead of you, then it's actually the handler['s] call on whether you want to release the dog or ... we never go around any type of search that we don't have military police as back-up because of handling the dog, watching the dog's reactions, the handler is not openly active, openly able to view the area that you're searching because you're more concentrating on whether the dog is doing his job. So any time the dog responds, it's up to your partner or the military police back-up patrol to actually engage or make the apprehension.
SSG KIRKLAND: Okay. And can this dog be assigned to another individual, or do you always work as a team?
SSG LEACH: As long as we maintain certification or as long as I stay as an explosive detector dog handler, he would stay with me. If, for any reason, I decide to leave the service or get out of the canine program or just go some place else that didn't require a dog, he would be left at the kennels. He would more or less be left alone for a certain period of time, depending on the dog's behavior and how attached he was to his last handler.
Dogs are social animals, so they need social contact. So after serving several weeks, a certain amount of weeks, again it depends on the dog, the dog will readily accept a new handler coming in because after staying several weeks in his kennel, isolated, then he's happy for anybody that's going to come in and handle him and give him love and attention, take him out for a break and so forth. Then they would go through another rapport building period before they would even attempt to work together as far as training for explosive certification.
SSG KIRKLAND: Okay. So as long as you decided to stay in the canine program and as long as he is capable of doing his job, you can work together?
SSG LEACH: Yes.
SSG KIRKLAND: And if you decide to stay in the canine program, could you ... are you assigned to Fort Bragg? Could you be assigned to Fort Bragg until you retire is what I'm trying to say?
SSG LEACH: Could. Depends if I'm needed in the Army. If they needed another bomb dog team at another installation that was critically short of a bomb dog team and Fort Bragg had an overage with too many bomb dog teams, they would ship us to another location.
SSG KIRKLAND: Okay. Did you get any special shots working with the dog just in case he happened to bite you?
SSG LEACH: No. Basically a dog's mouth is cleaner than a human's. So you should have a tetanus shot, which everybody has before you've entered the program anyway. If the dog bites you, more or less they treat both bite wounds as just clean them out as best you can and leave them open, because this way anything the dog, when he bit, anything that's in there you have to allow to drain out.
SSG KIRKLAND: Now, what about the dog? Did he get any special shots before coming here?
SSG LEACH: Yes. He got a series of shots, all tetanus and medication. Exactly what, it's in his medical records.
SSG KIRKLAND: Okay. What if we fell under NBC [Nuclear, Biological, Chemical] attack? Does he have a gas mask?
SSG LEACH: No. They do have them in the system, but we haven't been able to get them because they stopped using them since World War II. So the Air Force just came up with new nomenclature for them. We're ordering them at this time. We haven't got them in stock yet.
SSG KIRKLAND: Okay.
SSG LEACH: But they do have gas masks for the dogs. Right now if we came under gas attack, the best I could do is keep him under, you know, a building that's basically closed off as much as possible and try and get him out of the air as soon as possible. If it was something like nerve agent, we would treat him the same as you would a soldier. We have atropine injectors for the dogs as well, so we would treat him with atropine and immediately seek out a vet.
SSG KIRKLAND: Okay. And is there any difference to your operation now that we have switched into DESERT STORM or do you pretty much do your job the same way? Any special precautions?
SSG LEACH: We take a lot more caution in our job because the threat level has increased. So whereas before you could afford to be a little bit lax on your search patterns or more if you weren't sure at all, it really didn't too much matter. But for explosive detection work, every time the dog gives you a response, you have to follow it.
SSG KIRKLAND: Okay. Now, why did they decide to send Jupiter? You know, would they have wanted to send a younger dog, or ... ?
SSG LEACH: No, because on a mission of this nature, you want to send the best certified dog. Jupiter and the other dog team that was here, Sergeant Parker and Mortal, had the highest certification standards at Fort Bragg. So like anything else, you don't want to send the second string team in, you want to send your best team to get the best performance and the best job, especially seeing that this is more or less experimental for a 16th MP Brigade to deploy dogs to the field.
SSG KIRKLAND: Okay. And when you're at Fort Bragg, are you assigned to an MP company or ... ?
SSG LEACH: Yes. We're with the U.S. Army Garrison [Military Police Company]. They're the only ones that have canine assets at Fort Bragg.
SSG KIRKLAND: Okay. And who made this decision to only send two dogs?
SSG LEACH: That's made at brigade level by various folks.
SSG KIRKLAND: Okay. Alright. That pretty much sums it up. Is there anything else you'd like to add that I haven't covered? Any problems with the dog? Any concerns?
SSG LEACH: Just that we could be better utilized if command would sit back and listen to the handlers who are the professionals. Instead of trying to tell us the mission, if they'd ask our advice as the on-hands experts of the dog teams. A lot of the things they're going by ... whatever old Army Regulations they're going by either no longer exist in the military working dog program or have been--I don't know how you would say it--reprogrammed or whatever, reworked, we can be a lot more effective than what they give us.
One of the worst things you want for a military working dog is to put him on a static course. He's a more valuable asset if he's allowed to roam or on mobile patrol, because he can cover ... one dog can cover a whole lot more area than six MPs because of their sensitive nose, their sight, their hearing. Same thing as interior-exterior: you have to take in consideration the type of area you want to protect and exactly what you want to protect it from. If it's something like exterior security of an air base and you have MPs out walking patrol of the perimeter security, the dog is going to be a lot greater asset because he can smell or hear an individual a lot better than MPs at a fixed point. Plus, by allowing him to use the down wind flanks, he's going to smell something out on the perimeter a lot sooner than a person will. So they're not utilizing the dogs as effectively as they should be.
SSG KIRKLAND: Have you suggested this?
SSG LEACH: Yeah.
SSG KIRKLAND: And what was your response ... what was your answer? What was the answer that they gave to you?
SSG LEACH: "That's fine, well and good, but we want you to do static post activity."
SSG KIRKLAND: I see, okay.
This concludes the interview between Staff Sergeant LaDona S. Kirkland and Staff Sergeant Leach. The date is the 8th of February, 1991.
[END OF INTERVIEW]