MARINE CORPS LOGISTICS BASE ALBANY, Ga -- Military working dog handlers here and throughout the Marine Corps have a new tool in their arsenal in the fight against crime.
The manager of the Marine Corps Working Dogs Program recently issued new body armor to K-9 units Corpswide.
The K-9 department here is testing the unique body armor, which has been specifically designed to protect their four-legged counterparts.
The new K-9 operations vests are made of woven Kevlar fiber, soft body armor panels.
With these thin body armor panels, the vest weighs only seven pounds and is strong enough to protect dogs against small arms fire and stab wounds.
The vests are manufactured to the same standards as human body armor, and are durable enough to take multiple hits to the same area.
The extra level of protection offered by the new body armor is particularly a necessity for the Marine Corps' military working dogs due to their need to train in an expeditionary nature.
"The new armor is versatile enough for deployments that involve searches, tracking and extractions," explained Cpl. Daniel Hillery, military working dog handler here.
"Any day, on the base or in a deployed status, we could encounter a situation where the dog is being targeted. If we see someone as a hazard and we're going to release the dog on them, we'll know that the dog will be safe because he's protected," he further explained.
The vests have several features that give K-9 units previously inaccessible flexibility.
"Removable cold packs inside the vests help keep the military working dogs cool in extreme climates such as in the Middle East," Hillery explained.
"There are also rappel loops sewn into the vest. If we want, we can climb with a dog and even rappel. There's also a harness on the vest that allows us to parachute with the dog if we need to," he pointed out.
However, there are some drawbacks associated with the large K-9 vests. These include added weight and loss of mobility.
"It limits the dog's movements in some ways, and can make it harder for them to jump," Hillery said.
"It's extra weight on them, and at first it's a little awkward. It's kind of like the first time any Marine puts on a flak jacket and Kevlar. They're learning to work with it," he continued.
At $1,000 a piece, the new vests are a significant investment for the Marine Corps.
Proponents of the new armor argue that the price of the vest is negligible compared to the cost of training and caring for a new working dog.
"We get attached to the dogs because they're our partners, and we don't want to lose them," Hillery said.
"If you estimate the cost of raising, feeding and training a dog, it adds up to somewhere around $60,000. Replacing a dog ends up being a lot more expensive and time consuming," Hillery went on to explain.
Along with the financial benefits, the new K-9 body armor is giving the Marines behind the dogs more confidence to accomplish their missions no matter what task is assigned to the unit.
"I think that it makes us feel more confident with the dogs because we know that they're going to be protected, and we feel like we can do more with them," Hillery explained.
"In any situation we encounter, I'll feel more secure knowing that the dog I rely on to get the job done is safer," he said.