When members of 4th Infantry Division's Combat Aviation Brigade at Fort Carson, Colorado, arrived at Fort Knox to assist Cadet Summer Training with medical evacuation missions, they had a specific training request for Fort Knox's Veterinary Services and 905th Military Working Dog Detachment.

"They actually approached us saying, 'We know you have military working dogs at Fort Knox. Can you provide us training [opportunities]?'" said Capt. Sarah Keller, branch chief at the Fort Knox Veterinary Services Public Health Activity. "We said, 'Heck yeah!' This is familiarization training for their pilots and aircrew in transporting a K9 patients, but it's [also] familiarization training for [our veterinarians] and dog handlers, and it desensitizes our military working dogs when working around and traveling in an aircraft."

Captain Riley McCormick, a helicopter pilot and platoon leader with 4th ID CAB, said the opportunity was too important to pass up.

"Our flight paramedics are experts in providing critical lifesaving care to human casualties en route, but [we] are not often [provided] the unique challenges of providing en route care to canine casualties in a training environment," McCormick said. "This is a mission we may be called to execute, and now our aircrews are better prepared to respond to emergency situations involving military working dogs."

Keller said the familiarization training is helpful to get combat medical staff, who are used to human injuries, prepared to respond to a dog casualty in combat.

"These [crewmen] see human trauma all the time, but they tend to have a very different emotional response when they see K9 trauma," said McCormick. "The emotional response to a dog is often, 'That's Fluffy; this is a pet,' and they lose objectivity.

"This training helps most medics overcome seeing a wounded dog, and they can begin seeing them as a patient."

The military veterinarian said the training value is important because time is of the essence during a combat medical emergency.

"We put them through these scenarios because it helps them to fall back on the skills they already know," Keller explained. "Sometimes that initial shock at seeing an injured dog throws them off and slows them down. But they know this stuff. Dogs are very similar to humans, but they just have to be taught some of the little intricacies."

Keller stressed that some of the big differences are teeth and fur.

"These dogs are trained to bite, and they're likely to be in a lot of pain. They'll need to remember to protect themselves by remembering to put a muzzle on the dog," Keller said. "Dogs are covered in hair. You'll have to consider wrapping bandages as opposed to placing bandages that stick. This training points out the differences, and informs medics how to cope with the differences."

Helping with the training is DIESEL, a realistic training aid that looks, feels and bleeds like the average military working dog.

"It's hard to simulate an injured K9 patient with a perfectly healthy military working dog. They're not just going to lay down on a litter, let us strap them down and let us carry them into a helicopter," Keller said. "He's the same size and weight as the typical dog and very lifelike. We simulate an injury to him, and a handler will respond and call in a 9-line. We'll load him and the handler will turn over care to the air crewman, and they'll resume treatment in the air.
Medics can place an IV catheter, provide fluids, induce drugs and even stabilize an airway on the 'mock' dog."

Training medics in veterinarian practices could be a game changer downrange, said Keller.

"It's important because veterinarians may be rare in the theater of combat operations, and we may be hours or days away from an injured dog," said Keller. "We strongly rely on our human provider counterparts to provide that initial aid to our patients.

"Now they will be [trained] as an extension of us and be able to provide aid to that animal in a most critical time."

Keller said the training protects a valuable Army asset while safeguarding an ageless relationship between man and dog.

"We sometimes place dogs in precarious situations to protect humans because we would rather have that dog detect explosives ahead of a team of Soldiers than the Soldiers unknowingly detonate it," Keller said. "They are Soldiers, too, and such a valuable asset to our warfighters. Losing a dog is losing a partner and a friend, and is a huge blow to morale of everyone. We want to avoid that where we can."