Military Working Dog teams from across the United Sates gather on Fort Jackson for a week of rigorous testing to become officially certified teams.
The certification ensures the credibility of each team’s work in the field should they be called into a court of law. They must also certify to perform their official duties at their home stations.
“Every team must do this annually,” said Sgt. 1st Class John Hawkins, Fort Jackson’s kennel master. “This makes the teams credible.”
Eleven teams attempted the certification. According to Hawkins, not all teams may certify. For handler and dogs that are new to the job, the certification testing can be nerve wrecking.
“This certification is very important to me,” said Spc. Joseph Phillips, a MWD handler assigned to the 905th Military Police Detachment, Fort Knox, Kentucky. “I was nervous before I started, but then I threw my emotions out.”
Phillips and his partner Puritan have been working together for about 5 months. At 9-years old, Puritan is an old hand at the certification test. Phillips is his partner’s junior in experience, despite the experience gap, the two have bonded well. “Puritan is one hell of a dog,” Phillips said.
Over the week, each team will face a series of events to include obedience drills, controlled aggression tasks, scouting, building searches, odor recognition, and detection.
On day one, teams faced an obstacle course where the MWD were unleased and tested on their ability to follow verbal commands. An M4 rifle was fired twice to gauge the dog’s ability to remain calm in a tense atmosphere.
Once complete, teams moved to an area where a Sgt. Brady Lynch, 208th Military Working Dog Detachment, Fort Jackson, waited with an arm covered in layers of foam and padding. Here the teams tested their ability to take down a running suspect and escort them to a police car once apprehended.
The morning ended with a series of sealed metal paint cans, each containing a particular scent of an explosive. The teams had to accurately detect which cans contained a potential explosive material.
“This is the first step to ensuring a dog knows odors,” said Sgt. Joe Leonard, a handler assigned to the Connecticut National Guard. “There’s chlorates, TNT, detonation cord, and C4 in there.”
Lilo, Leonard’s 3-year old partner, has never certified before. He is considered a “green dog” according to Hawkins. For Leonard, Lilo is “a pain in the butt and is my best friend.”
The final event of the day had teams searching a barracks building for a suspect hiding in one of the many rooms.
Roxi and her partner Spc. Rhys Borrett of the 222nd Military Police Detachment, Fort Gordon, Georgia, entered the building. Roxi led the way upstairs.
“Overall, I think we did OK,” Borrett said. “Roxi did really well, I’m proud of her.”
Once the certification process is complete, those who achieve the certificate will return home and begin their official duties. Those who may have missed the mark will be able to continue training together and return to certification testing after 60 days.
“Every dog has their own personality,” said Spc. Samantha Roden, a handler assigned to the 905th Military Police Detachment, Fort Knox, Kentucky. “Dogs have their days, just like humans do and you have to pick up on that.”
Regardless of the personality, both the dog and handler are able to help each other on the job with encouragement and confidence.
“Certifying is very important for me. I’m about 80% confidant we are going to certify,” said Pfc. Thomas Johnson, 67th Military Police Detachment, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. “This is my first time certifying so I’m a little nervous but Fiona … she’s amazing.”
Despite the outcome, each team expressed their desire to become the best MWD team and demonstrated their commitment to training to ensure the safety of the nation.
“We build report every day,” Johnson said. “This is someone saying we can deploy to save troops,” Leonard said and Roden said, “We don’t like to lose.”