FORT SILL, Oklahoma (March 25, 2021) -- The 902nd Military Working Dog Detachment here led a training event March 18 with teams of handlers and their dogs from the Comanche County Sheriff’s Department and Altus Air Force Base; along with participation from Fort Sill’s 761st Explosive Ordnance Disposal Company.
The joint K-9 training is a regular event, said Sgt. 1st Class David Hall, 902nd kennel master.
“We not only share training ideas, but foster an environment where we can collaborate with each other,” Hall said. “We have to have relationships where we can easily plug into each other and work together.”
At Freedom Elementary School, 14 teams worked in explosives detection, narcotics detection, and suspect apprehension. The school was chosen because it provided an environment where dogs might have to work, such as a large building, and running on tile floors, said Hall. (The school was closed for spring break.)
Undersheriff Doyle Tosh, Comanche County Sheriff’s Department, said his agency brought one explosive detection, and three narcotics detection dog teams to the training.
Inside the school, Undersheriff Tony Bryan and Halcon, a Belgian Malinois, searched classrooms for hidden narcotics.
Outside, teams worked on suspect apprehension and controlled aggression with “suspects” wearing bite suits.
Cpl. Cody Grosinsky, 902nd team leader, said that dogs are only released to apprehend suspects as a last resort when they refuse to surrender. And, at a handler’s command, the dog will cease the attack.
Military working dogs wore resistance-parachutes and ran down fleeing suspects. The parachutes served to improve the dogs’ stamina and bite power, Grosinsky said.
The suspects wore either full bite suits or bite tops depending on the training, Grosinsky said. When bit with the suit on, the wearer only feels pressure and sometimes pinching.
In another training scenario, a 902nd explosive detection dog team responded to possible explosives at the school. After the team discovered a suspect package in the school’s multi-purpose room, the 761st EOD was called to respond, said Capt. Katlyn Vanwye, 761st EOD Company commander.
“Doing this now helps us build those connections (with the 902nd MWD), so if a real incident did occur we’re prepared,” she said.
Sgt. Kaja Anderson, EOD team leader, wore a bomb suit, and gingerly approached the package. Once near the package, she set up a portable X-ray device. Safely away from the potential threat, she and another EOD specialist viewed a tablet which showed the contents of the package.
The military working dog is another option of Army force. Having a military working dog on scene works as a psychological deterrent to situations, said Hall, who recently taught MWD instruction at the 341st Training Squadron at Joint Base San Antonio, Texas.
“Just the presence of a military working dog calms things down because no one wants to deal with an 80-pound dog with sharp teeth,” he said. Handlers and their dogs have to communicate with each other on missions, said Hall.
Since dogs can’t talk, the handler has to understand his or her dog’s body posture and sounds, and be aware of any changes in their dog’s behavior, he said.
Hall said this was critical when he was in Afghanistan, as teams searched for buried IEDs. “Sometimes you have to take those little clues (from the dog) where you run with it a little bit and work your dog to either get a response from it, or give everybody an educated guess that something is there.”
MWD teams work with many U.S. federal agencies, such as the Secret Service and State Department, for security operations worldwide, Hall said.
“I’ve had dog teams travel to Moscow, Brazil, all over Europe, and the United States,” he said.
Pfc. Samantha Wendt, 902nd MWD, recently completed the Military Occupational Specialty 31K military working dog handler training.
The first seven weeks of training are at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, learning military police tactics and techniques, such as road patrols and searches, she said.
The next 11 weeks are MWD training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio.
The first phase is one week classroom instruction of the history of MWDs and veterinary work, she said. In the second phase the students are assigned a dog. The teams’ training includes patrol work and controlled aggression for five weeks.
During Phase 3, which is also five weeks, the students are assigned a different dog. Without getting into specifics, Wendt said the team is trained in detection work.
Once she arrived here, Wendt was assigned her partner Fricie, a male 75-pound Belgian Malinois, who is almost 5 years old.
Wendt said the bond between handler and dog is special.
“Fricie, in a way, is like a family member, but he’s also my partner at work.”