By Amy Newcomb, Fort Campbell CourierMay 1, 2015
FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. -- Sitting stoically by his handler's side, he won't move until given the command. He makes police work look easy, belying the fact that military working dog teams put in countless hours of training each day.
The MWD teams at the 510th Military Police Detachment are no exception.
Guszti, a 7-year-old German Shepherd patrol drug detector dog, and his handler Pfc. Justin Williams have been working as a team since February.
Williams works with Guszti most mornings at the obstacle course at the Fort Campbell kennels on basic obedience training. The team also hones their detection skills often so that Guszti stays focused on the Army mission.
"There is no other equipment that the Army has better than the military working dog to find narcotics," Williams said. "With me as his handler, we will do great things for the Armywide mission."
While Guszti makes police work look easy, other handlers experience a variety of antics from their partners throughout the day.
Specialist Corey Meeks has been working with Roger, a 3-year-old Belgian Malinois, since February. Like Guszti, Roger also specializes in PDD.
"[Roger] has his own mind pretty much -- he's a great dog, he's just a character," said Meeks.
Roger is referred to as a "green" dog, said Meeks because he only arrived last year from Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, where all MWDs are trained.
"It's pretty much like us coming out of basic training, that's what he just came out of," Meeks said.
"So, he is still learning. Every day I have to do everything. I have to train everything every day just to keep him on task."
Meeks said it was a process, but it was fun and the time put into training builds the bond between handler and dog.
"The last dog I had was very old and he knew everything to do, so it was very boring," Meeks said. "But now, it's fun with Roger because every day it's something new with him."
Normal day at the kennels
Typically, the MWD handlers arrive early each day to feed the 17 dogs assigned to the Fort Campbell kennels, as well as distribute needed medication and clean the dog runs.
"Every week we do sanitization. It kills all the bacteria -- anything the dogs picked up while we were out training and carried into the kennels throughout the week," said Staff Sgt. Jonathan Rose, operations NCO of the military working dog section.
While sanitization is not an exciting part of the job, it is extremely important. If the dogs pick up bacteria that require quarantine, it could shut an entire kennel down for days or even weeks, said Rose.
Each canine is different and requires different amounts of food and medications. Each handler receives quarterly training in basic veterinary skills to maintain the health and welfare of their dog.
Oftentimes, a MWD handler and canine will deploy in support of a mission only to find themselves without veterinary support, so handlers learn to perform minor surgeries and treat anything from spider bites to cold weather injuries, Rose said.
While they currently have 17 dogs, Rose said several of the canines are gearing up to retire, with one retiring much earlier than expected.
Shine, a 2-year-old German Shepherd arrived from Lackland in January. During training, handlers noticed he was having difficulties and immediately took him to the veterinarian for radiographs. The X-rays showed a spine abnormality that wasn't caught on his procurement exam before he left Texas.
"We didn't catch it until he got here, which sometimes happens," Rose said. "The discs weren't formed right in his lower back so … when we took him over a hurdle … instead of the disc taking the brunt of the force it was essentially bone on bone."
Throughout each day, handlers train with their dogs in several different areas. Training takes place on the obedience course, which helps to hone each team's communication skills.
Each MWD is trained using Pavlov's Law, which is based on the belief that behaviors can be triggered by signals.
This technique is used to train MWD, hunting dogs and even orcas at Sea World, said Rose.
"[Handlers] are taught to read a dog's actions. When they train these dogs they are going off of their natural instincts. We all work off of the same principles … just different target goals," he said. Meeks said every verbal cue given to Roger on the obstacle course should be completed even when there are distractions.
"You want his focus on you while you are running [the obstacle course]," he said. "He waits until you give the command to do each obstacle."
After a full day of training, handlers make sure the dogs are watered, fed and resting comfortably in the kennels so they can prepare for the next day's mission.
This week, all MWD teams are training for annual certification scheduled for May 11-15.
Currently, the 510th MP Det. has three MWD teams certified to work road patrols. Four teams are preparing to complete certification requirements, and five teams have recently been paired and are working on basic training.
"The other teams are not certified yet, so they can't work the roads, they can't do deployments, they can't do some of that other stuff yet," Rose said.
"They have to be certified first."
Certification requires each team to be proficient in five areas. These areas include clearing aircraft, baggage, barracks, buildings, open areas, overpasses, bridges, post offices, roadways, theaters, tunnels, bunkers, vehicles and warehouses.
Once the teams complete certification, they must attend a law enforcement academy to be used for road patrol, said Rose.
"To become an accredited law enforcement agency like Clarksville … you have to meet certain requirements," Rose said. "One of those requirements is you have to be qualified on your job and every year you have to go through another qualification."
The MWD teams can be used in a variety of law enforcement activities, including road patrols, drug detection, explosives detection and deploying in support of Army missions worldwide.
Editor's note: This article is the second in a series about military police operations.