The Coast Guard has a long history with military working animals. During World War II, horses, dogs and yes, even pigeons, were used operationally. Altogether 2,000 dogs participated in beach patrols throughout the war effort alongside their dedicated Coast Guard handlers. One of these handlers was Jack Ayre.
Ayre attended college at Drew University in Madison, N.J., for two years until he enlisted in the Coast Guard to support the war effort. At the time he earned just $50 a month. Due to his work ethic, Ayre was soon recommended by his command for officer training. Holding various jobs throughout his career, Ayre consistently scored high in his proficiency ratings. He was sooon known as the “best man of his detail for any responsible job,” but there was one job which he truly loved: beach patrol.
Early in World War II, there were a few incidents of German spies landing in rubber boats from submarines along with sightings of both German and Japanese subs. This led to the establishment of beach patrol positions and in August 1942 the first dog was on patrol. Ayre’s was a member of a beach patrol and protected American shores against sabotage with his patrol companion, Mal. Mal was a German shepherd and together they served at Rehoboth Beach Life Boat Station, Del.
Ayre served his country honorably, earning both the American Area Campaign Ribbon and WWII Victory Medal and went on to supervise the loading of ammunition and explosives aboard freighters at Hog Island. But the work of his canine companions was still on his mind. Patricia Bye, who met Ayre decades later in March 2010, said despite Ayre’s age and deteriorating memory, he could talk for hours about his faithful partner.
“In his mind, there was no better dog than a German shepherd. He would talk about how loyal, kind, intelligent and powerful his dog was,” said Bye. “When Jack needed his dog to go to work, that dog was all business.”
Ayre continued his love for dogs until his last days. After a stroke in August 2011, his care givers would bring a dog over to see him, and he would immediately perk up and smile from ear to ear.
“Jack told me he liked dogs better than people sometimes because they were always there for you,” recalled Bye.
After a long life, Ayre sadly passed in December 2011. Working alongside Mal and patrolling the beaches for threats left a lifelong impact on Ayre and he established a trust to ensure the service can still perform missions alongside man’s best friend.
While threats have evolved, the team remains the same. Coast Guard canines and handlers continue to be on the front lines of defense and today’s Coast Guard has 14 nationally-deployable canine explosive detection teams strategically positioned at seven locations across the country.
One of these teams is Petty Officer 2nd Class Christopher Hartman and his canine partner Evy. Hartman didn’t know the Coast Guard even had explosive detection teams until one day at Station Los Angeles – Long Beach. The day’s mission involved working with canines and their handlers to get the dogs used to being at sea. From that moment on “he was sold.”
“I personally feel it’s one of the most important jobs in the Coast Guard. No other law enforcement agency with explosives detection canine capabilities covers the areas we do or is trained to deploy in the maritime environment,” said Hartman. “It’s one our smallest programs and we run hundreds of operational missions per year supporting our coastal security missions, national security and local law enforcement missions.”
Petty Officer 1st Class John Mitchell also realizes the importance of military working dogs and the tremendous value they add to security missions. Mitchell and his partner, Valentin, have been deployed across our nation to keep Americans safe – whether they are aboard a U.S.-bound vessel to investigate a suspect container or providing shoreside security at a high-profile event.
“Our expertise is requested by other law enforcement communities because we have unique, specialized capabilities and we bring a lot to the table as far as our law enforcement experience in versatile environments,” said Mitchell.
Teams are capable of deploying from helicopters or ships to meet a variety of onshore and offshore threats. In addition to providing security sweeps to maritime infrastructure around the country, canine explosive detection teams support other federal, state and local agencies. More than that, they train together to strengthen capabilities during operational missions.
The long blue line from World War II – handlers and canines alike – prepared the service for the threats we face today. Thanks to Ayre and his legacy through the Jack K. Ayre Revocable Trust, the tradition will continue to live on.