Loyal Companions: Devoted dog team garners accolade from AKC
By Heather Graham, Sentinel News Editor
The American Kennel Club honored one of Fort Hood’s military working dog teams with the 2007 DOGNY Heroic Military Working award Monday on Fort Hood.
The award was created in 1992 to honor military working dog teams and their service to the nation. This is the third time in the DOGNY’s six-year history a Fort Hood dog team has won.
Staff Sgt. Charles Shuck, a military police officer and military working dog handler with the 178th Military Police Detachment, 89th Military Police Brigade, and his canine partner, Specialized Search Dog Sgt. 1st Class Gabe.
Shuck and Gabe, a five year-old yellow Labrador retriever, were selected for the award because of their successful deployment to Iraq. The team was nominated by Fort Hood’s Military Working Dog branch chief Lt. John McKinney.
“They had more finds and more productive work than other teams, AKC representative Carmen Battaglia said.
Battaglia presented the award to Shuck and Gabe on behalf of the AKC.
Shuck and Gabe had the most number of finds of any dog team in theater during their one-year deployment to Iraq.
“Usually, a successful dog team only has five to 10 on a deployment,” Shuck said.
They had 26 finds, with the largest being a cache of 36 122-mm rounds.
“We were lucky,” Shuck said. “We were in a really good area.”
The team was stationed at Q-West near Mosul, Iraq, September 2006-2007 with Soldiers from 5th Battalion, 82nd Field Artillery Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division, out of Fort Bliss, and 1st Battalion, 37th Field Artillery Regiment, 1st Infantry Division, out of Fort Lewis, Wash.
Shuck and Gabe’s work saved lives by removing many explosives and weapons that could have been used against coalition forces or innocent civilians.
“There is no way anyone can put a number on the lives saved because of what he and Gabe did,” McKinney said.
As a specialized search dog, Gabe searches for and detects explosives, weapons, munitions and bomb-making materials. The SSDs are different from other detection dogs in that they often work off lead, some distance from the handler.
The ability to work off leash allows some standoff room for the handler, creating a safer environment for the Soldier member of the team.
“Gabe can go into a house or a building and we can stay behind him,” Shuck said.
Shuck said he was just doing his job.
He was honored by the award but said any of the other dog teams who deployed with him could have won, especially one team that paid the ultimate sacrifice while accomplishing its mission.
“When I think of a heroic dog team, I think of my friend Cpl. Kory Wiens and his partner, SSD Cooper, who were killed in Iraq in 2007,” Shuck said in his acceptance speech. “They are the real heroes. I am both humbled and honored to be accepting this award from the American Kennel Club. I accept this award on behalf of all the dog teams that are serving.”
According to McKinney, Shuck does more than his job at any and everything he does.
“He puts 150 percent into everything he does,” McKinney said. “He puts all of his heart and effort into in it.”
Dubbed America’s Team by McKinney, Shuck and Gabe have an obviously deep connection.
Their connection is obvious. The two clearly adore each other and are so in sync Shuck can recognize subtle changes in Gabe when the team is conducting a search.
The single Soldier visits Gabe at the kennels six to eight times each day.
“When he’s off, he comes by (the kennels) every morning to let the dog out,” McKinney said. “He comes by every night to say goodnight and let him out again.”
Such is the bond between a handler and a dog.
While a dog’s loyalty to man is often documented, for this team and many other handlers, it is a two-way street.
Shuck is so devoted to Gabe he declined mid-tour leave on deployment, and chose instead to stay in Iraq with his four-legged partner.
“We have only been separated one time, for 17 hours,” Shuck said.
The separation occurred when Shuck had to fly to Balad to pick up some weapons. It was the only time the team has been separated since 2005.
“Not one of these handlers sees it as just a dog,” McKinney said. “That’s their partner.”
Pretty funny for a Soldier, who before he got Gabe, did not even like dogs. He had never had a dog for a pet.
“They slobber, leave hair everywhere,” Shuck said.
Shuck met Gabe at Lackland Air Force Base near San Antonio in 2005 when they were partnered at the dog school.
Shuck was Gabe’s first handler.
“I’m going to be his last handler,” Shuck said.
The Soldier has re-enlisted indefinitely in order to stay with Gabe.
“He’s the reason I am staying in the Army,” Shuck said.
Shuck joined the Army after high school.
His first assignment in the Army was as an infantryman with the 117th Infantry Regt., 30th Infantry Division, at Fort Wainwright, Alaska.
“I always wanted to be an MP, but my scores weren’t high enough,” Shuck said.
In 2002, Shuck reclassed as an MP. He worked at Fort Hood as the noncommissioned officer-in-charge for the bike patrol and as a member of former III Corps commander Maj. Gen. Tom Metz’s personal security detachment.
A former first sergeant gave him the opportunity to go to dog school, where he met Gabe.
In garrison, the team works patrol shifts performing gate checks, security checks and offering assistance to all sectors.
It is in-theater the SSD team shines. They conduct raids, cordons and searches, cache searches, traffic control point checks and route clearance missions.
Shuck said he was most nervous on TCP missions.
“You never knew what could happen,” he said. “There were a lot of IEDs where we were.”
Aside from conducting searches, Gabe also worked as morale boost in Iraq.
Children in Iraq loved Gabe, Shuck said.
The dog also was loved by Soldiers and provided some much needed comfort at the hardest of times.
Shuck said he would bring Gabe in to visit Soldiers 24 hours after a unit had lost someone. Gabe also visited wounded Soldiers in the hospital at Camp Speicher while the team was there.
In any aspect of Shuck’s life, Gabe is a huge part.
“They have that ideal bond,” McKinney added. “When you think about the ideal dog team, Shuck and Gabe… they got it.”
The team should not be splitting up any time soon.
Shuck should be leaving for Fort Knox, Ky., this summer, but that will not mean he will be separated from Gabe.
“I wouldn’t leave him,” Shuck said.
Fortunately for Shuck, SSD teams stay together and Gabe will join him at his next duty station.
“Why would you want to break that team up?” McKinney asked. “That is a very unique dog team.”