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False K-9 Records Land Marines in the Doghouse

Times Staff Writer

Scandal has taken a bite out of one of the Marine Corps’ most celebrated units: the K-9 corps.

Six enlisted Marines here have been court-martialed for faking records involving the training of dogs assigned to security duty. Eleven other Marines have been punished.

The most senior of the Marines to stand trial, a staff sergeant, was sentenced Friday to six months in the brig and a bad-conduct discharge. The staff sergeant was also charged with keeping his personal dogs at the base kennel and smoking marijuana off-base. Another sergeant already had been booted out of the Corps in the case.

The Marines insisted that they faked the records because they were assigned too many other duties, such as putting on demonstrations at local schools, to complete the training of their dogs. The problems surfaced when a review last year found discrepancies in the dogs’ files.

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“These are very serious things,” base spokesman Lt. Dan Rawson said. “This speaks directly to the security of the installation and the safety of the Marines here.”

The dogs have been shipped back to Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, where the Department of Defense runs a dog boot-camp. The Marines have all been reassigned. Many were demoted and given extra duty.

New dogs -- German shepherd and Belgian Malinois -- were brought from other bases to act as guard dogs, bomb- and drug-sniffers, and to make perimeter patrols.

The number of dogs working at the sprawling base is classified.

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Rawson said new procedures have been adopted to ensure that the dogs are getting continuous training to keep their skills sharp. At no time was security on the base compromised, he said.

Dogs and dog-training are a high priority in the Marines. While all military services employ dogs, none has taken canines to heart as vigorously as the Corps.

Outside the kennel here is a memorial to two longtime Marine Corps “working dogs.” At the Navy base in Guam is a granite monument to 25 Marine dogs killed in the World War II battle for that island. Atop the monument is a bronze statue of Kurt, a Doberman credited with saving the lives of 250 Marines when he sniffed out an ambush.

Marines refer to each other as “Devil dogs,” a holdover from World War I when German soldiers spoke admiringly of the Marines at the battle of Belleau Wood as having fought as tenaciously as “hounds of hell.”

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The English bulldog is the official symbol of the Marine Corps, and three bulldogs, including one at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego, have official status, including identification cards, service numbers and uniforms.

When Marines from the Camp Pendleton-based 1st Marine Expeditionary Force deployed to Iraq, dogs were part of the force assigned to topple the regime in Baghdad.

“Dogs have a long tradition of service,” Rawson said. “Those noses are very good. They have lots of capabilities that human beings don’t.”


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