Bill spent a year in Afghanistan supporting Operation Enduring Freedom
He’s spearheaded searches and found weapon caches.
But he hasn’t received one medal for his actions.
Even if he did, he probably wouldn’t care.
Bill, you see, is a 3-year-old black Labrador retriever. Technically, canines don’t earn official awards for their deeds, but Billy has certainly earned his stripes, if not a large supply of doggie snacks.
“Bill’s performance has been above reproach,” said Staff Sgt. Joseph Maisch, Billy’s only handler and speaking of their time in Southwest Asia. “He’s been the best dog I’ve ever worked with….”
Maisch is a member of the 217th Military Police Detachment and is the interim post kennel master.
Bill, a product of the United Kingdom’s Defense Animal Center, was paired with Maisch under a pilot program in which canines are trained to find explosives off-leash from handlers.
“When I received Billy, he had zero training and didn’t even know his name,” said Maisch. “The only thing he had was a microchip from England.”
The two began their working relationship with four months of training at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., (it was a joint venture between the MPs and engineers there) and Yuma, Ariz., where they earned their certification as a Specialized Search Dog team.
“SSDs detect and indicate to its handler the presence of ammunition, weapons, explosive and other materials associated with bomb-making,” said Maisch.
Unlike conventional military working dogs, which mostly operate on the leash of handlers, SSDs must have the discipline and independence to search areas yards ahead of a handler without a leash.
Southern Afghanistan was Maisch’s and Bill’s first opportunity to showcase their skills. They deployed to the theater of operations in October 2005 and were assigned to a team of U.S. Army Green Berets specializing in capture and kill missions.
It didn’t take them long to prove their viability.
“We were able to locate two weapon caches outside of a village,” said Maisch, “…various mortars, ammunition, rockets – things of that nature.”
By the end of their deployment, the team was responsible for finding thousands more rounds of ammunition, four emplaced improvised explosive devices and a car IED.
The fact that Bill was able to adequately perform his missions was overshadowed by the harsh conditions in which they took place. For starters, the temperatures reached 120 degrees and the terrain was mountainous and rugged. Furthermore, the missions could be long and drawn out, sometimes lasting days at a time. Bill handled his business like a seasoned professional.
“Bill is a really stable dog under just about any condition,” said Maisch. “I’ve put him under some really strenuous conditions that a lot of dogs would tend to break under. To put him under certain levels of stress doesn’t really bother him.”
Not even gunfire and explosions in combat, said Maisch, noting that he knows of one dog that was adversely affected by the explosion of a roadside bomb.
“It became aggressive not only to the handler but to other people who would approach him,” he said. “It became shy of gunfire and explosions and just wanted to lash out and attack because it feared it.”
Not Bill. Maisch recalls one situation in which U.S. Soldiers were hunkered down firing at enemy positions.
“We were in between two guys who were shooting RPGs and another guy shooting a .50 caliber Barrett (machine gun) within 10 feet of us,” he said. “I remembered looking down at Bill and nothing was going on. He had no panic expression, he wasn’t panting; he wasn’t doing anything. He performed admirably under those types of conditions.”
Distractions weren’t a problem, either. Since Bill performs his mission almost as an independent agent, the potential exists that he might be distracted by anything to include other animals and humans. Maisch said that Bill’s character and training has prepared him well to seek and find his targets no matter what the circumstance.
“Bill’s bold but not aggressive for the simple fact that if I send him one to 200 meters ahead of me to conduct a search in a public venue and children are running about, I can’t have him attacking children or any other bystander,” he said. “If other animals are in the area I can’t have him aggressive toward other animals.”
Maisch’s and Bill’s tour of duty in Afghanistan ended in November. They have pulled conventional duties with the Fort Lee military police since then.
In the meantime, Maisch is now getting close to gaining a promotion to the pay grade of E-7. If he makes it, there is a chance his relationship with Bill may be dissolved because E-7 dog handlers typically move to a kennel master or leadership position. The prospect of that happening leaves an empty feeling for Maisch.
“Bill is my best friend,” said Maisch. “We’ve deployed together, eat together, sleep together and fight together. …we’re always together as a team so that dog becomes your best friend and vice versa. That dog relies on you for everything.”
If he doesn’t make the promotion list, Maisch and Bill will may take on another deployment to Afghanistan scheduled for June.