A federal hiring freeze imposed by President Trump on Monday has drawn criticism from veterans who say the temporary hiring freeze will unduly burden the Department of Veterans Affairs. Veterans — who comprise 31 percent of the federal workforce — are disproportionately affected by the moratorium.

House and Senate Democrats have requested that the Department be exempted from the hiring freeze. Despite attempted fixes to reform the VA–a federal agency notorious for its inefficiencies and dysfunction–the department has been consistent in its failure to provide adequate healthcare services and benefits to Americans who served their country.

With the imposed hiring freeze, American service men and women can anticipate longer wait times and fewer services in the future. Not only will a hiring freeze delay veterans’ access to healthcare, it will likely defer resolution of their disability claims (a sole source of income for many veterans and their families), too. According to the Washington Post, it remains to be seen whether the freeze will exclude civilian Defense Department personnel.

In anticipation of National Freedom Day (February 1st), I thought I would use this post to recognize the contributions of military animals who work alongside our U.S. servicemen and women. Working animals play an important–and often unrecognized–role in operational military success. Let’s take a brief look at the animals who serve in the U.S. military.

Military Working Dogs (MWDs)

According to the Department of Defense, there are approximately 2,700+ active-duty military working dogs in the U.S. Armed Forces. Dogs have actively contributed to U.S. military operations since World War I; a large number were deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq. Along with their handlers, all military working dogs (MWDs) undergo basic training at the 341st Training Squadron at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. Each year 185 MWDs are certified to detect explosives and IEDs; 85 or so receive training for patrol, drug detection, and sentry duties.

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Staff Sergeant Candace Colburn and K9 “Gunner”

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A flight medic with 2nd Battalion, 3rd Aviation Regiment, is hoisted into a medical helicopter with Luca, a military working dog, during a training exercise.

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U.S. Navy Master-at-Arms 3rd Class Christopher Coolahan and Military Working Dog Meky participate in controlled training exercises.

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Members of a U.S. Marine Corps war dog platoon in Iwo Jima, Japan, during World War II. [Photo: US Marine Corps / Library of Congress]

U.S. Navy Marine Mammal Program

The Navy’s work with marine mammals has been ongoing for many years, beginning in the late 1950s when the Navy began to study the unique attributes of marine mammals. Today, bottlenose dolphins, beluga whales, and California sea lions perform a number of important functions such as protecting ports and Navy assets from attack, retrieving costly equipment lost at sea and in patrolling restricted waters for intruders. Dolphins are especially valuable for their ability to detect underwater mines, either buried in the seafloor or floating from an anchor.

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Members of the code 715 Marine Mammal Team pose with an Atlantic bottle-nosed dolphin at Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Pacific. [Photo: U.S. Navy / Alan Antczak]


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NMMP dolphin wearing a locating pinger while performing mine clearance work in the Persian Gulf during the Iraq War. [Photo: US Navy]


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Jack, a California sea lion, salutes his handler. [Photo: US Navy]


Government scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and Defense Advanced Research Laboratory (DARPA) have been working with bees and wasps since 1999. Much like dogs, bees can be trained to detect bombs and explosives. They are natural-born sniffers. After all, their antennae are designed to sense and track pollen in the wind.

The U.S. Air Force is currently funding research to better understand how bees and other insects fly. The goal of the project? Scientists hope the research could offer insight that can be applied by the military to build smarter, more efficient aircraft.

Partially dissected honeybees are seen at the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Bee Research Laboratory.

Partially dissected honeybees are seen at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Bee Research Laboratory.