Why is Obama considering degrading our military dogs' training?
Does Obama want to quickly braise and debone our military dogs as well?
Soldier Dogs is the latest (March 15, 2012) book written by Maria Goodavage, the founder of the Dog Lovers Companion National Guidebook series and a featured columnist at Dogster.com. In it, she introduces us in chapter 23 to what many in the military consider their best pre-deployment dog training school, the one in Arizona:
But the course that every handler and instructor I talked with across all four services says is the course to attend is the Inter-Service Advanced Skills K-9 (IASK) Course, here at the Yuma Proving Ground. It is the only advanced course among the three..."It'll save your life, and maybe a lot of other lives."
The terrain and climate in Yuma are much like Iraq, and there is even a model Middle East village with "mud and concrete buildings, and a small marketplace." Goodavage further states:
During the course, which runs for nineteen days, dogs and handlers take part in realistic raids, night operations, and route-clearance exercises. The machines that simulate ammo, IED (roadside bombs), and mortar blasts are deafening[.]
In chapter 29 of Soldier Dogs, the chief trainer of the IASK program, Marine Gunnery Sergeant Kristopher Knight, says the Department of Defense will defund the IASK program after October 2012. In an update, a personal e-mail exchange this May 7, Goodavage informed me that "[t]he IASK course has been funded through the next year, but that is all. It is still in danger of not being funded for future years."
This is part of the downsizing of the military and its budget that Pres. Obama has initiated. Apparently the Obama administration has limited interest in the Yuma, Arizona program, in the home state of Sheriff Joe Arpaio, where strong opposition exists to the administration's tepid immigration enforcement. In fact, some of the local southern Arizona police dogs and federal Border Patrol dogs come from the military programs at Yuma or Lackland Air Force Base in Texas. Goodavage further adds:
It costs the DOD about $750,000 a year to run the IASK Course. Some 225 handlers go through the course annually. Despite the tremendous (if unquantifiable) success of the course, it's on the chopping block because of the same major budget cuts causing pain everywhere in the military. The program is currently considered a Tier III course, which means it's looked at as "extra" in times of budget crises.
But what is $750,000 when it comes to saving lives? If you have to put a life in terms of dollars, it costs the government $400,000 to $500,000 in death benefits for every soldier, sailor, airman, or marine killed in action[.]
The IASK course began in 2005 as an "urgent need" program, and the people in charge want it to become a "formal, required course." When a dog and handler receive advanced training in Yuma and then lead a patrol in Afghanistan where they find one hidden booby trap, it can easily save five or ten combatants from injury or death on any given day. Not only have the dogs learned to smell the bomb component chemicals, but they can actually hear the unique low sound the wind makes as it blows over a nearly invisible nylon fishing line or thin metal one, both of which are used as booby-trap tripwires. And dogs trained to track have caught insurgents, a valuable source of intelligence, without firefights.
Where could the U.S. come up with that $750,000 that this dog-training program costs each year?
Michelle Obama's vacations, as of last year, the UK Daily Mail has estimated, cost taxpayers over $10 million. And at least once, the Obamas' dog Bo has flown separately from his owner(s) on vacation in an Air Force Gulfstream jet. If Michelle Obama had cut her vacation expenses down to $5 million and Bo had traveled with the Obamas, that would probably have saved enough money to pay the expenses of the Inter-Service Advanced Skills K-9 Course for eight to ten years.
Near the White House, in the Dept. of Commerce Building, is the old National Aquarium, a series of lackluster fish tanks that resemble the display cases of a trade show. As the nation's oldest aquarium, it must date back at least fifty to eighty years. It would not surprise me if its upkeep is a significant fraction -- or all -- of $750,000 per year. The day I visited the place, there were hardly any people inside, aquarium-lovers most probably preferring to go to the modern National Aquarium in Baltimore's Inner Harbor. Department of Commerce staffers now housed in other buildings (either rented or maintained at direct government expense) could be moved into office space that now is the home of small fish. And there's the Forest Service Museum on 14th Street, or the Postal Museum near Union Station in Washington, both of which could be eliminated.
Or let's consider something much bigger: last but not least (or leased), how about leasing ANWR in Alaska for oil drilling, while simultaneously eliminating the Department of Energy? Each of those moves alone could make $2 billion available to the government -- enough to fund a good deal more than an advanced dog training program. It would be in the national interest to have the Obama administration's de facto ban on drilling in new public land and its overregulation both literally go to the dogs. And we need those highly trained dogs -- both now and in any future military situation.