CAMP GANNON, Iraq --
Operation Iraqi Freedom has called on Marines from different military occupational specialties to serve on the frontlines with infantry units. One Long Island, N.Y., native is guiding them on patrols with her dog, Darrah.
Sgt. Jaimi Diaz, the Al Qaim kennel master, Task Force Military Police, is currently working with 1st Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 2, as a dog handler. She runs dismounted patrols with the unit to look for improvised explosive devices while balancing her duties in the kennel.
“As a canine handler, I go out and clear routes for convoys and patrols to go through or we do reconnaissance and quick reaction force,” said the 2003 Hampton Bays High School graduate. “And as a kennel master, I get to oversee the Marines and make sure they are getting the right training.”
Diaz, who is on her first deployment, volunteered to leave her unit in Okinawa, Japan, to fill a yearlong individual augment billet. She began her assignment at Camp Fallujah where she served for five months as the senior dog handler. She was then sent to Al Qaim, on the Syrian border, to take over the role of kennel master and said she is learning a great deal.
“You work harder when you know people believe in you and know you can do the job. All my (staff noncommissioned officers) had confidence in me as the senior guy because right now I am in charge of six other handlers, one Navy, at the kennels in Al Qaim,” said Diaz. “I have a lot of interaction with the command. When you are a junior Marine you really do not know why are doing this, you don’t know what is going on, you wonder where you are going next. But being the senior guy, you actually find out what everyone is doing, why they are doing it and how you play a part.”
Although Diaz left her husband, Sgt. Christopher Diaz, in Okinawa with her 2-year-old son Jeremy, she still calls back regularly to seek his advice on how to live up to the expectations and how to support the units to the best of her ability.
“I enjoy talking to him about things because I do not feel stupid asking him questions because he has the same job as me and understands,” she said. “He was in Ramadi during 2005 so he can answer questions I wouldn’t feel comfortable asking someone else.”
She also relies heavily on her dog to keep the Marines she is supporting safe. She has had Darrah for more than a year and a half and brought her from Okinawa. Although she is the dog’s third handler, she said they have bonded well.
“When you first hear about canines and hear all this stuff they can do, you really don’t believe it,” said Diaz. “But once you see it, you definitely realize how amazing they are.”
One of the most important aspects of keeping the Marines she works with safe is making sure her dog is up to the task.
“I have been doing it for three years so it is easier for me to tell if there is something wrong with my dog and know how to fix it,” said Diaz. “And if I can’t fix it, there are definitely people that can help me out. It is all about the training that you do and how often and how much dedication you actually have. If you spend the time in it, you will have a dog that you can have complete confidence in because you know that lives depend on it.”
Diaz doesn’t think being a female plays a part in getting her job done though. She said that everyone has accepted her and treats her as just another Marine in the unit. Since being attached to an infantry battalion is rare for a female, she is trying to show them that females can do exactly what the males are doing.
“I really have had no problems,” she said. “I love working with the guys, and they have accepted me and Darrah as if we were always there.”
Diaz is looking forward to returning back to her family and job in Okinawa in three months. She said she plans on applying for the Marine Enlisted Commissioning Program to become an officer.