MDW pilot program to debut search, rescue dogs at Capital Shield
October 5, 2010
Two Belgian Malinois in a pilot urban search and rescue dog program will show what they can do at the upcoming Capital Shield exercise to be held in Lorton, Va. Oct. 13-15. The idea for the unit grew out of demonstrations at last year's Capital Shield, where a pair of military explosive detection dogs on display led Army leaders to extrapolate on other possibilities for working dogs.
This Military District of Washington asset is meant to supplement the search and rescue capabilities of the 911th Technical Rescue Engineer Company out of Fort Belvoir, Va. The 911th is a technical rescue unit that can respond to natural disasters or potential terrorist attacks on the nation's capital. According to David Reiter, the canine program manager for the MDW Provost Marshal Office, the pilot program began this April and will extend through April 2012.
The idea for acquiring search and rescue dogs came about by happenstance.
''It was by default," said Sherwood ''Woody" Goldberg. ''I'm honored to serve as the civilian aide to the secretary of the Army for D.C., and to have relationships with Joint Task Force Headquarters-National Capital Area MDW for a number of years. I best do my role ... by reaching out to the community and telling the Army story. [The Idea] simply came about because I asked a question.
''I'm an inquisitive person and I want to be part of this wonderful organization and to do my part," he said. ''Since 9AcA "11 it's become apparent to our leaders, and hopefully, most Americans, that each of us has a responsibility when it comes to national security. If you see something suspicious you need to report it.
''Mine was an innocent question. I had seen search and rescue canines employed through the media, where there have been earthquakes in China, India, the Philippines, even here in the United States," Goldberg said. ''So I asked, 'Do we have search and rescue dogs'' and I'm proud that Mr. [Egon] Hawrylak [the deputy commander for JFHQ-NCR and MDW], who I asked the question of, ran with it..."
The two search and rescue dogs, Beppie and Chyta, are kept at kennels on Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall. While the kennels have housed narcotics, explosive detection dogs and patrol dogs, this is the first time the facility has played home to search and rescue canines.
Beppie, 3, and Chyta, 4, previously served as combat tracker dogs in Iraq. They have been receiving training for the past six months at Fort Belvoir, the Center for National Response in W. Va., a facility in North Carolina and other places in preparation for their new work. The pups will undergo Federal Emergency Management Agency certification testing at a facility in Connecticut next week.
Tracking dogs are trained to follow their snouts and pick up a trail from sniffing items that retain the scent of a subject. Search and rescue dogs, however, don't always have that luxury. It isn't always apparent who is buried in the rubble of a collapsed building or how many there are.
For that reason, search and rescue dogs are taught to discern the myriad scents at a given scene, said Sgt. 1st Class William McEnaney, an MP and kennel master. The dogs match each scent visually to an individual, he explained, and then stake out a safe and secure spot that is closest to the source of a human scent that is unaccounted for. After a potential survivor has been located, the dogs are trained to ''bark and hold," to let rescue workers know the location of a subject. The dogs are sensitive enough to distinguish between rescue personnel on the scene and victims buried under debris, between the living and the dead.
''It's pretty impressive," said McEnaney, describing the training scenarios the dogs have been put through. ''We always have a live decoy immersed in the rubble. We can go deep or high [in simulating a collapsed building pile up]. We try to make it complicated for the dogs. We'll throw in [distracting items] like baby diapers or laundry -- variables with human odor on it." Belgian Malinois are a good fit for search and rescue missions, as are Labradors and Golden Retrievers, McEnaney said. ''You want something with a lot of drive," he said, ''a dog that's athletic and can clear rubble."
Climbing aluminum ladders, gangplanks and other obstacles at the JBM-HH kennels, Beppie seems to be having the time of her life as McEnaney puts her through her paces during a recent demonstration.
It's a kind of play to her, he said. ''She just wants to please her handler and do what she's supposed to do."
McEnaney said civilian authorities at one training facility were impressed with the capabilities of the two MDW canines. ''They said, 'Only one dog out of 50 fits the parameters of a search and rescue dog."
While dogs with a tracking background are compatible with becoming search and rescue dogs, dogs trained to sniff out drugs or explosives usually aren't, said Reiter, who is the dog handler for Chyta. Dual-trained patrolAcA "narcotic and patrolAcA "explosive detection dogs are trained to be aggressive; a quality not desirable in a search and rescue dog. These dogs have also already become oriented to a certain scent and that would cause confusion at a scene.
''Once a dog is imprinted he will always recognize that odor," stressed McEnaney.
Capt. Robert Crowe, commander of the 911th, said the dogs are a valuable asset that MDW can share with the engineers. He marveled at the dogs' ability to go places humans can't, a skill put on display at a demonstration at the Center for National Response, which held training in an old highway tunnel. With their heightened sense of hearing, Crowe said the dogs also have the ability to get near small holes and crevices in rubble to listen for cries of help. ''They're potentially a very valuable asset," he said. ''FEMA has been using them for awhile."
''They're very impressive," said Lt. Daniel Walk, 911th special missions platoon leader. ''Without fail they've found the targets we've given them at a rapid pace. Because they locate victims quickly, it speeds up the normal search process."
''The dogs have to be trained very carefully," he said. ''There's always a chance that a piece of concrete can fall on top of them. The dogs are not an expendable resource."
Crowe said he was unsure what paces the dogs would be put through at Capital Shield because the exercise's scenario won't be revealed until the start of the event.
Reiter said JFHQ-NCR and MDW Commander Maj. Gen. Karl R. Horst is supportive of the pilot search and rescue dogs. ''Leadership is looking for a 'proof of concept' of the program," he said, before deciding whether to make it a permanent asset. Canine capabilities are still being discovered. There are dogs trained to find currency and those that can detect fruit smuggled into the country, said Reiter.
''The sky's the limit," he said.
''It's just a matter of expanding on the dogs' ability."