By Army Spc. Matthew Thompson
Special to American Forces Press Service
March 26, 2009 - She takes a few steps forward and then glances over her shoulder. A few feet up the road she stops and lies down on the ground, a sign of possible danger. Lady is a German shepherd trained to sniff out explosives and their components. Her handler is Army Sgt. Stephen Netzley, a scout with 3rd Squadron, 71st Cavalry Regiment at Forward Operating Base Altimur in Afghanistan's Logar province.
"I know the discomfort of not knowing if there is an [improvised explosive device] out there while patrolling the roads," said Netzley, the noncommissioned officer in charge of the K-9 section at FOB Altimur. "Now I have a chance to make the roads safer."
The 2-year-old German shepherd and Netzley have been working together for six months, including six weeks of training together at Vohne Liche Kennels, in Peru, Ind.
"Learning how to work with a K-9 is challenging, but once you learn how to do it, it becomes easier," Netzley said.
The pair works together as a team. "She'll pick up a scent, and if I know or see something, I'll lead her to it or she'll lead me to it, and I'll watch her reaction," Netzley said. "Through training, she has learned how to determine where the odor is coming from."
Netzley and Lady work with the route clearance patrol and the counter IED teams.
"They help us a lot because they can pinpoint exactly where something is," said Army Cpl. Adam Kodras, a member of the 3rd Squadron, 71st Cavalry Regiment's counter IED team. "They'll find the secondary IED, caches, or anything that you wouldn't normally see with the naked eye."
When Lady finds something and it is confirmed positive, her reward is a tennis ball and a lot of petting. But more importantly, she is helping to save lives.
"We're happy to know that we are going to save people," Kodras said. "We've probably saved a Humvee full of soldiers with what the dogs have helped us find."
"I like being a scout, but being a dog handler gives me a better opportunity to ensure all of my battle buddies are safe," Netzley added.
(Army Spc. Matthew Thompson serves with the 5th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment.)