According to the Cape Breton Press in 2010, “Of the 138 Canadian soldiers who have died during the Afghan mission, more than 120 were killed by IEDs or land mines, including one that killed five soldiers and a Canadian journalist.”
So what is a country to do when they are struggling to find ways to protect their 2,800-soldier force in Afghanistan from Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs)?
I previously wrote a post asking, Are Dog Teams Hired Guns? That post was in a different context but still relevant because it is true. Dog teams can easily (relatively speaking) integrate into foreign units and effectively save lives. This happens every day in Afghanistan and I know that many handlers feel like hired guns. But I digress.
The Canadian Army went out and hired some “Paws” and some handlers. Here is what the American Company, American K9, said about the contract on their website.
Afghanistan – November 10, 2009 – The Canadian Forces Contracting Cell in Afghanistan has selected American K-9 Detection Services, Inc., (AMK9) to provide Explosive Detector Dog (EDD) Teams to support Canadian Military Forces within Southern Afghanistan. This contract will provide the Canadian Forces with both entry control point security as well as support to forward operating units, which rely on EDD Teams assistance to locate hidden Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) and weapons caches.
AMK9 has provided Detector Dog Team support to the Canadian Forces in Afghanistan for several years. AMK9 EDDT routinely accompany Canadian Troops in hostile regions and provide the forces with an irreplaceable tool that directly contributes to the safety and security of every single Canadian soldier.I didn’t personally deal with the Canadian “Hired Paws” in Afghanistan but I frequently dealt with the management of AMK9. I remember standing in the AMK9 country manager’s office and on a board he had a picture of all the “Hired Paws” of the Canadian contract.
I often wondered who these “hired paws” were. I mean, they were charged to lead patrols in an IED-infested land with their dogs. Who the heck would volunteer to do that and why? I knew that they must be very special people to put their lives on the line like that.
Sure, our military dog teams are doing this as well. But if they are injured or killed they have the United States Military and government as a support network. What do contractors have? Who takes care of their family if something tragic happens? I’ve always wondered about those handlers of the Canadian contract.As I studied the photos of these contractors, one person really stood out to me.
She was the only woman on that board.
Fast forward 15 months and who should I find on the internet? The woman from the Canadian contract! She is Danica Dada Djikov and her story is amazing.
As I’ve gotten to know Danica better I now have the answer to my question of why.
Danica grew up in the war-torn country of Bosnia and Herzegovina. During her teenage years her hometown of Trebinje, a border town with Dubrovnik in Croatia, became engulfed in war. For four years she lived every day not knowing if her soldier father would ever return home. Her city and neighbourhood was shelled constantly.
The once bountiful and lush fields of crops became killing fields. Death, destruction and terror were a way of life for those four years in Trebinje. Danica lived every day not knowing if it was her last.
In 2000, six years after the Bosnian War ended, the country was still littered with mines. It is estimated that there have been over 1,700 casualties from land mines in Bosnia Herzegovina since 1996. According to Wikipedia,“By the end of 2008 some 220,000 land mines and unexploded munitions remained scattered in 13,077 locations. A total of 1,755 km² (3.4% of the country’s territory) is mined.” I have read other reports that say that the number of land mines may be closer to one million.
The Canadian International Demining Corps established a dog school for mine detection dogs in Trebinje. Danica, who grew up with dogs, leaped at the chance to enter the school and begin to help her country clean up and rebuild. It was a dream for her to work with dogs and save lives.
Danica, a child of war, wanted to help.
What happens when Danica hits the minefields of Bosnia and then Kosovo?
How does Danica find her way to Afghanistan?
I’ll share the rest of her story in Part 2 of Danica: A Child of War.
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