Combat Casualties aren’t Always Human

  • Published
  • By Maj. John T. Stamm
  • 908th Airlift Wing

The United States military has employed Military Working Dogs since the Revolutionary War; first used as pack animals, advancing to pest control, to today where they see action world-wide helping to safeguard military installations and personnel by detecting explosives and drugs.

MWDs have become an integral part of military operations and security, yet many people don’t realize dogs are vulnerable to the same environmental and occupational hazards. They can suffer heat stroke, post-traumatic stress disorder, combat wounds, or any number of the same injuries that can produce a human casualty.

“Military Working Dogs are critical assets for military police, special operations units, and others operating in today’s combat environment,” said Capt. Beth Byles, Section Officer in Charge, Fort Benning Veterinary Center, Georgia. “Many people don’t realize that the (military working) dogs often require medical attention.”

Though dogs are similar to human biologically, they react differently and therefore specialized techniques are needed to provide proper care to the animal and protect the caregiver. That is why it is highly beneficial for military medical personnel to receive canine-specific medical training, and it’s why Byles, a team of Fort Benning veterinary interns, and 42nd Air Base Wing Security Forces personnel provided MWD evacuation familiarization training to the 908th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron personnel, here, in March.

“There are a very limited number of veterinarians in the military, so when MWDs get injured, quite often they are treated by medical personal trained to provide care to humans,” Byles said. “Expectations are that injured working dogs will receive the highest level of resuscitative care as far forward as possible, often in the absence of veterinary personnel.”

The team taught 908 AES personnel the basics, such as how to check for vital signs and patient assessment. Other topics included emergency airway management, shock management, heat and cold injuries, traumatic brain injury, spinal cord injury, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, and virtually every other triage technique that medical personnel could employ in a combat environment. Training on artificial canines, personnel also learned how to properly sedate, secure, and transport the animals.

Participants learned that it is acceptable and effective to use medications developed for humans on canines. However, transfusing human blood into a canine would prove lethal.

“It would be equivalent to giving ‘A-positive’ blood to an individual with an ‘O-negative’ blood type,” Byles said.

908 AES officer in charge of mission planning, 1st Lt. Kristian M. Taylor, recognized the gap in training and medical knowledge of MWD care within the unit and set up the training with the subject matter experts.

“As flight nurses, we understand that our patients are not limited to being human and take on the responsibility of having to provide care for a MWD, perhaps even in the absence of a handler,” he said. “We aren’t selective in who we treat. Our job is to provide the best care to anyone who needs it, including canines.”

908 AES commander Lt. Col. Amy Sanderson re-emphasized the importance of the training, as flight nurses and medical technicians are often the first medical care the animals receive when injured.

“We transport them aboard our aircraft, and they are considered our patients while they are in our system,” she said. “It is vital we learn proper care.”

The training manual ‘Clinical Practice Guidelines for Military Working Dogs” can be found online at

Located at Maxwell Air Force Base and operating a fleet of nine C-130H Hercules cargo aircraft, the 908th is Alabama’s only Air Force Reserve wing. The wing has approximately 1,200 Reserve Citizen Airmen, serving in more than 20 career fields, with Air Reserve Technicians, civilian employees and Reservists on active duty tours conducting day-to-day operations. Over the spring and summer of 2021, the 908th will engage in the largest deployment in wing history - sending more than 300 Airmen to locations around the globe.