Just as there are extraordinary humans we respect for their abilities and achievements, there are also extraordinary dogs we respect for these same things. Among the Marine community, respect and extraordinary heroism go hand in hand, even for Marine canines. What many may not know, is that there are dogs who train along with Marine Corps Special operations teams to participate in complicated and usually dangerous missions.
Fox Nation has a new series called “Hero Dogs” which honors these canines who journey along with battlefield heroes, telling “first-hand accounts” of their stories. The stories are all about canine soldiers who fight alongside soldiers, helping to keep them safer. Each episode seeks to celebrate these stand-out Americans. One Belgian Malinois has forged his way to the top rung of the United States Special Operations community. His name is Bass, and he’s been a leader since retired Marine Staff Sgt. Alex Schnell first met him. Schnell was attracted to Bass’ golden eyes. It was those “very piercing predator eyes” that told Schnell immediately that Bass was one special dog. Schnell was ultimately pleased that Bass and he were assigned to be together.
Bass served together with Schnell for more than six years in special operations in Somalia, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Bass was able to track down enemies, detect explosive materials, sniff out weapons, and travel with his patrol so well that units began to request Bass for their missions. Schnell knew that he and Bass were requested to accompany those missions together because Bass was needed for his unique combination of skills.
Bass became legendary for his ability to neutralize the enemy and keep his team safe. Bass was often first to enter a building before his team. Schnell described one mission which he clearly remembered because of the perfect way that Bass handled every detail. The team was sent to “capture or kill high-value individuals”. They were in Afghanistan and everything was quiet at first. But as they began to get closer to the specific location for their mission, they were surrounded by enemy fire. It was the middle of the night and the team was in the thick of constant gunfire and explosions. Throughout the night, Bass was attached to Schnell by a hip leash and trusted his handler Schnell to simply follow along wherever he was led. Schnell said that when the time came, Bass entered the building first and subdued the enemy.
Bass hunted down enemy insurgents by the dozens- and these were high-profile human targets. Bass also detected more than 350 explosive targets. For his entire career, while Bass was on patrol, none of his U.S. military team members died. Bass did exemplary work as an animal in combat. For this reason, Bass was awarded the Medal of Bravery in November 14, 2019. He received this prestigious award from the non-profit organization Angels Without Wings. Bass traveled to Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. to receive his honor and enjoy a celebratory photo shoot with his medal hanging around his neck. The Medal of Bravery which Bass received is the first of its kind. It is issued to acknowledge working animal both at home and abroad who are distinguished by their valor. The new medal was inspired by a WWII British award called the Dickin Medal which honored the bravery of combat animals and their service. Bass was one of eight animals who received the new medal during the ceremony.
The brand-new medal Bass received is officially titled the Animals in War & Peace Medal of Bravery. Bass was part of the first every ceremony sponsored by the National Marine Corps League along with Angels Without Wings. Robin Hutton instituted the honor as a way to observe “conspicuous gallantry or devotion to duty in war and peace” in the United States. Bass was one of the two living animals present to receive their reward, along with Bucca, who worked with the New York Fire Department as their star arson-detecting K-9 member. The other recipients were awarded posthumously. The ceremony also served to initiate a campaign to create an International War Animals Museum to recognize heroic animals who have served in war and peace.
When Bass was actively part of the Marine Corps’ Special Operations Command, his position was that of “multipurpose canine”. He’s recently retired and his former handler, Schnell is now his pet parent. Schnell attached four unofficial extra ribbons to Bass’ collar to signify the dog’s combat action and deployments. Schnell bought human ribbons and glued them onto Bass’s collar because “dogs should receive awards for the many times they are put out in front of their team in the most dangerous of circumstances”.
Bass was born in the Netherlands and is bilingual. Schnell trained Bass using the Dutch language for obedience commands. Bass was trained to detect explosives, to conduct explosive sweeps for improvised explosive devices (IEDs), to protect Marines at their camp, and to lead assault forces while they were clearing dangerous buildings. Bass was an expert at controlled aggression keeping enemies in line, and could smell the person who placed a bomb in the ground and follow his track back to where he was staying.
Staff Sergeant Schnell is a Rapid City native, but he transitioned from active duty in the Marine Corps to become a training supervisor for the Military Working Dog Program as a civilian in the Department of Defense. He’ll be working at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. Schnell and his fiancé Maddie Merriam adopted Bass, who now spends his time hiking, swimming, and playing with his favorite ball or toy. Bass is a happy dog who loves being with Schnell’s family. He is the second retired military dog in the Schnell family, as their heritage of service goes back to Schnell’s grandfather, Hank, who fought at the Battle of the Bulge, D-Day, and Italy in WWII and also served in Korea. Several other’s in the Schnell family have also served since then.
Schnell is personally happy that Bass is retired from active duty now. Schnell told the Rapid City Journal that many dogs have fought in the military and sacrificed comfort in exchange for serving as working dogs. He mentioned that “not all of them have come back alive”. Bass was lucky to come home to live with Schnell, who was pleased that Bass could represent all of the dogs who contributed so very much to serve the country, considering that they didn’t volunteer to do so. Now Bass can enjoy the reward of a good life spent with those who understand and love him.