A decade with combat dogs
A decade with combat dogs

A decade with combat dogs

PETALING JAYA: When he signed up for the army at the height of the communist insurgency, little did retired army captain Kung Boon Chin know that he would be put in charge of a company of “soldiers” that marched on four legs.

For the affection and kindness he had shown towards an abandoned mongrel, the veteran serviceman, then aged just 22, went on to become the first trainer of the Malaysian army’s first war dog wing.

This was after the British army handed over its war dog wing to the Malaysian army in 1971.

Fresh out of military school in 1970, Kung was initially posted to the armoured car regiment at the Kota Belud army camp in Sabah as a second lieutenant.

Weeks later, he spotted a mongrel wandering aimlessly at the camp.

Kung recalling memories with combat dogs, two of them killed in action during his decade-long tenure.He learnt that it was left behind by a soldier who was transferred out of the base.

Kung adopted the abandoned dog and, in just days, the canine became close to him.

“He was an adorable fellow and was loved by all, including my Malay colleagues who often brought food and fed it during my absence or when I was out on duty patrolling in an armoured car,” the 76-year-old told The Star in an interview.

Several months later, Kung was sent for a short course at the British Jungle Warfare School.

It was later renamed to what is now known as the Pusat Latihan Tempur Tentera Darat (Pulada) in Ulu Tiram, Johor.

He said while attending the course, the camp’s commander, the late Major General Lai Chung Wah, who was then a colonel, had summoned Kung.

He was ordered to undergo training as a combat tracker dog trainer.

“Hey, Kung. I heard you love dogs. Okay, you will soon start your training as a war dog trainer,” Kung recounted Lai’s orders.

Kung said he explained to the senior officer that he had merely adopted the mongrel as it was discarded and needed his care.

He also said that he was happy to stay in the armoured car regiment.

However, the reply he received from Lai was the least comforting.

“Start your training. You will become a dog trainer, so get cracking,” Lai hollered.

Kung complied. Upon completing his training with British soldiers here and overseas, he began his new role.

Not only did he train the canines – Kung also drilled other soldiers into becoming combat dog trainers.

He said the dogs, mostly Labradors and a few German Shepherds, were put through rigorous and gruelling exercises just like their handlers to prepare them for the demands of the battlefield.

“It is what we call ‘battle inoculation’. They were trained to keep calm to the sound of gunfire and other situations, such as getting winched up helicopters and parajumping with their handlers.”

Kung said the dogs helped troops evade casualties by warning them of imminent ambush by the communists and sniffing out tens of thousands of booby traps, bombs and enemy hideouts.

Kung said the exemplary performance of the combat canines left the communists red-faced after dozens of the enemy’s planned ambushes were exposed.

He said intelligence reports revealed later that the communists had put out a death warrant on the combat dogs.

Kung said while handlers kept close watch to ensure their dogs were not harmed during operations, two canines, both Labradors – known as Ben and Max – were killed in action during his 10-year tenure with the dog wing.

While crediting both canines as among the finest of the division, he recounted Ben’s death as one that remains fresh in his memory as the canine had shown its mettle even during its last moments.

“Ben was on patrol and tracking ahead of his platoon. He then sniffed out the presence of the enemies, who were preparing to launch an ambush.

“When Ben signalled the imminent threat to his handler, Sarjan Chandren, the rest of the platoon quickly took cover.

“However, just when Ben turned around to return to his handler several metres away, the enemy took aim at him and opened fire. There was a plangent yelp from Ben as he fell to the ground. A fierce shootout ensued.

“But suddenly, Ben started moving. It slowly crawled and staggered towards Chandren.

“On reaching him bloodied and exhausted, Ben raised his right paw at Chandren as if it was his final salute before breathing his last, just like a true and brave soldier.

“Ben had saved many lives of our soldiers not only on that day but in many other earlier operations.

“The war dogs were great canines and had proven to not just be man’s best friend but his guardian too.

“As the saying goes, dogs do speak but only to those who care to listen,” Kung said.

He said Ben was returned to the army camp, where it was given a soldier’s burial.

More than a decade later, a memorial in its honour was erected and remains till this day at Pulada.

Asked why he had signed up to serve the army at a time when the threats to the life of servicemen was at its peak, Kung, who became a businessman after leaving the army, replied: “To serve my country when she needed me the most.”

“Moreover, the army was made up of multiple races and I wanted to be a part of that.”

Sila Baca Juga

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