National Geographic : 2014 Jun
38 Marine Gunnery Sgt. Kristopher Knight conditions Ronnie to the sound of gunfire at Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona, so that the dog will learn to remain calm during a firefight. Some trainers don turbans, play calls to prayer, and bring in farm animals to prepare dogs for the sights, sounds, and smells of Afghanistan. On base you sometimes hear them go off in the distance, set off by a goat, an unsuspecting vil- lager. Sometimes frantic locals will rush a bleed- ing kid up to Alcatraz for medical help. And the recent news about two fellow dog handlers, Jer- emy and Jasco, in his deployment, has been bad. Both were blown up and lost their legs. Jose is clear about this: He’d rather die than lose a limb or some vital body part. He’d rather get waxed than be half a person. What you do to take your mind off the fear is just what Jose does now, as he has done for the past two years: You train your dog, do your job, leave the rest to fate. The next morning, August 28, Third Recon knows that the Taliban have been busy. Alcatraz sits on a rise out in the cornfields, not far from a wadi, and intel has it that IEDs have been plant- ed everywhere. “We knew someone was going to get hit on that mission,” Sgt. Ryan Mulrooney will say later. “Every day something was getting blown up. We knew going in there that it was a pretty risky movement.” So for the first time since deploying to Afghan- istan, Jose puts on his “blast briefs,” underwear made of Kevlar material to limit genital injuries, and he mounts his helmet cam hoping to docu- ment his first find. Then he puts an IV in Zenit to keep him hydrated in the heat. The team moves out at 10 a.m. in ranger file, and Jose guesses it’s already 120 degrees. The ma- rines work down the hill slowly, and when they hit the 611 highway, Jose feels a surge of adrena- line. His mouth goes cottony as he commands Zenit, orchestrating the dog’s every movement. The team veers through the corn to avoid the road, until they hit the wadi that runs parallel to the highway, eight feet deep and ten feet wide, empty of water. Jose guides Zenit from bank to bank. Mul- rooney, working the metal detector, calls out, “I think I got one here.” Jose approaches, looks at the humped, loose dirt with a wire showing, fixes Mulrooney with a smile, and says, “Yup.” Michael Paterniti wrote about Hong Kong in the June 2012 issue. This is photographer Adam Ferguson’s first assignment for the magazine.