Layka, a military service dog wounded in Afghanistan and featured on the June cover of National Geographic magazine, has a new career: free-fall equipment tester. The Belgian Malinois was recently selected to test a specially designed canine combat vest, and her skydive was captured in the above video.
The role of dogs in the U.S. military has been evolving since World War I. They have been used extensively in Afghanistan and Iraq to protect troops by leading patrols and sniffing out explosives. Different vests have been used over the years to help protect the dogs during combat, but handlers found that some of the heavier vests caused the dogs to overheat.
In recent years, the company Hardpoint Technologies, working with the special operations community, has been working on a vest designed to improve a military dog's performance and safety. Hardpoint developed a lightweight, multipurpose canine work vest that can be used across a range of military missions, from patrol to detection.
Layka tested the vest in a parachute jump last month. The vest is equipped with convenient straps and handles so that troops can easily carry a dog or even "wear" it as a backpack. It also has multiple access points to attach leashes, and pockets that can carry ice packs to help cool the dogs in hot climates. The vest also serves as a harness for tandem parachute jumps with a handler.
While in Afghanistan, Layka was shot by enemy forces during a search operation. But she managed to attack the shooter and protect her handler, Staff Sgt. Julian McDonald, who later adopted her. The dog had to have a limb amputated and is now retired from military service.
The All Veteran Group, a team of combat veterans who apply their military skills to the civilian world, organized Layka's jump. Group president and founder Mike Elliott, who has also accompanied former President George H. W. Bush on tandem jumps, accompanied Layka and Sergeant McDonald on their jump. (On Thursday morning, Elliott made another tandem jump with President Bush in honor of his 90th birthday.)
"I was truly impressed with Layka," Elliott says. "She was very calm, very disciplined." When the airplane doors opened, Layka got a little fidgety, he said, which is typical of both people and dogs. But once in the air skydiving, she was calm.
To learn more about war dogs and their role in military operations, read National Geographic magazine's June cover story "The Dogs of War" and our online coverage, including "War Dog Helps Family Cope" and a series of historical war dog stories.