MARINE CORPS AIR STATION BEAUFORT, S.C. (Oct. 15, 2015) — Not all Marines wear flak jackets and carry rifles; some have fur and
walk on four legs. Military working dogs and their handlers are
incredibly valuable members of the Marine Corps community and have
extremely important jobs.
An MWD named Xxenos passed away earlier this year at the age of 10.
Xxenos had been retired three years and been deployed three times during
his career; twice to Iraq and once to Afghanistan.
As a specialized search dog, Xxenos was trained to detect explosives off the leash and a certain distance away from his handler.
“They do this to maintain as much stand-off distance from the Marines to
the explosive as possible,” said Master Sgt. Frank Ginn, the family
readiness officer for Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron aboard
Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort.Dogs that are on a leash are usually
only six feet form their handler which puts Marines in close proximity
to the blast zone. Another lifesaving measure for MWD teams is
“The SSDs wear a harness with a radio attached so their handlers can
give them verbal commands when they are off-leash,” said Ginn. “They can
also give hand and arm signals to the dogs.”
These handlers are trained to recognize tell-tale signs from the dogs if
they detect something. During training, if the dog is following
something that is not a threat, the handler will steer him away until he
finds the explosives.
“The dog alerts the handler that he smells something there,” said Ginn.
“It comes from a well-trained relationship between the dog and the
handler. Xxenos was able to let his handler know when he found something
so we could call (explosive ordnance disposal) in and detonate the
charge, or mark the area and bypass it.”
In 2011, Xxenos went on his last deployment embedded with 2nd Marine
Division. During that deployment, he and his handler found a total of
120 pounds of homemade explosives.
“I went out on patrols with him and his handler and slept in the dirt
with them,” said Ginn. “One night we were coming back into our camp and
our vehicle hit an improvised explosive device. We got out and set up
security because we knew that there could be another explosive out
there. Xxenos and his handler were in the vehicle behind us so they
pushed out and the dog located another IED. If we had hit that one, the
ending could have been very different. We all owe him our lives.”
The trust that a handler builds with his dog is the key to a
well-functioning and effective team. A Marine has to be able to fully
understand the signals his dog is giving and vice versa.
Xxenos was a Belgian Malinois, a dog breed that is known for having a
good sense of smell and the ability to form strong bonds with humans.
These traits made him perfect for the SSD program.
Just like humans who go through traumatic events during war, dogs can be
affected by combat too. After his last deployment it became clear that
Xxenos could no longer function in the field due to the high amounts of
“He went through the adoption process and it worked out that I was
looking for a dog at the time so he came home with me and became a part
of my family,” said Ginn. “My bond with him grew stronger because of our
history of deploying together. He was a true warrior to the end.”
Xxenos died of cancer surrounded by his loving family and brothers in arms.
“These working dogs are not a piece of gear,” said Ginn. “They’re living
breathing animals with their own personalities who are part of the
team. They are tough, smart, and they are Marines.”