Marine Corps military working dogs may be spending more time aboard ships after three highly trained canines returned from a nearly nine-months deployment at sea with the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit out of Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.

In a December briefing at the Potomac Institute near Washington, D.C., Col. William Dunn, commander of the North Carolina-based 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit, commander said the dogs were a new technology for his Marines MEU that offered additional capabilities any time they Marines made might make landfall.

The dogs on the ship included a tracking dog, a bomb dog, and an attack dog, Dunn said.

"That was a force multiplier for some of our standby missions," he Dunn said. "They embarked with us on the ship and those dogs logged a lot of flight hours, they really did. And they came to enjoy the [MV-22B Osprey]."

Officials with Headquarters Marine Corps headquarters said they believed the deployment, which extended from February to October, was the second time that military working dogs had embarked on a MEU, but the first time they had stayed aboard ship for the duration, rather than transferring to kennels in Bahrain or Djibouti mid-way through the float.

The decision to embark with dogs came as MEUs begin to deploy with six-man special operations forces liaison elements — or SOFLEs — designed to improve communication and cooperation with theater special operations commands. The 22nd MEU did not have a SOFLE, but Dunn said the unit had decided to improvise a version of its own, including officers from the MEU and two Navy and Army special operations forces personnel.

Micky, a patrol/explosives detection dog with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, takes a break from his daily exercises on the flight deck of the USS Iwo Jima, Dec. 19, 2014. The 24th MEU deployed last week as a flexible, sea-based force tasked with providing crisis response across the range of military operations, from armed conflict to humanitarian assistance.

Photo Credit: Lance Cpl. Dani Zunun, 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit

"If we were doing a discussion with our SOF brothers, we'd say, 'by the way, we have these dogs that you can use if you need them,'" Dunn said. "So it was a great opportunity to tie in to get missions."

Deploying alongside furry fighters provided another benefit, said Dunn said — one that became especially important when the MEU's busy deployment was extended for an additional 21 days.

"Having the dogs on board was a huge event for the morale of the Marines and sailors," he said. During many petting sessions over the course of the deployment, he said, "even the attack dog became nice."

Marine EU officials said they believe future MEUs will also deploy with a canine contingent. Marine Corps news reports show the 24th MEU, which deployed in December, also had dogs aboard.

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