SAGAMI GENERAL DEPOT, Japan – U.S. Army and Navy military dog handlers tested their knowledge in a K-9 tactical combat casualty care exercise here Friday.
The three-station course, which had life-like animatronic dogs, simulated a military working dog, or MWD, being wounded while on a dismounted patrol. The handlers then had to provide care for various wounds, litter carry the dog to a safe location, and call for a medical evacuation.
The Camp Zama Veterinary Treatment Facility, which oversees the health of 16 MWDs at Camp Zama and Naval Air Facility Atsugi, held the training exercise to gauge the handlers’ proficiency in first aid.
"When they're downrange we're not going to be with them, so they are the first person who is going to be able to take care of their dog if they are injured,” said Sgt. Madison Green, an animal care specialist who organized the exercise. “We want to make sure they are able to provide that care."
Every quarter, the Camp Zama VTF instructs the dog handlers on trauma care skills. While Friday’s event was sort of a culminating event for that training, there are plans for it to become even broader.
“This is something we want to start continuing to do more of and build on it to make it more extensive," Green said, adding that next time handlers may use their own dogs to simulate casualty care.
The exercise also served as a chance for local Japanese veterinary staff from two off-post clinics to witness military trauma care in action as well as meet the handlers and their dogs.
As the only veterinarian for the MWDs, Maj. Graciela Orantes, chief of the Camp Zama VTF, said those partnerships will be vital if ever a dog gets sick or injured and she is unavailable to treat them.
Orantes said it can be difficult when overseas to find a local vet clinic that can assist, especially since MWDs are bigger and require specialized care that may be different than what clinics normally do.
“It was good for them to see and have that interaction with the handlers and have their questions answered,” she said. "It also helps build that relationship and that comfort and care for our MWDs."
Dr. Katsuji Arima, a veterinarian at Petemo Animal Medical Center in Sagamihara, and about 10 other staff members observed the exercise.
"We are very happy to have a partnership with the U.S. military,” he said. “The opportunity to communicate with them will be very helpful for us to understand [how to treat MWDs]. It was really interesting to see.”
Petty Officer 2nd Class Jon Siltman, who works at NAF Atsugi’s Security Department, was one of the handlers to go through the course.
Siltman plans to soon deploy to Somalia to help provide security and said being evaluated on his skills in front of an audience was a valuable experience before he leaves on a real-world mission.
"I’ve had this training before, but it never hurts to come out and do it under pressure,” he said. “It really helps give you either a confidence boost or understand that I need to work on this. So it's very beneficial.”
While he was confident in his dog care skills, one thing he was glad to work on was executing a nine-line medical evacuation request.
“I think the most challenging part for me personally was effectively calling a nine-line [request] quickly,” he said. “The Navy doesn't teach a lot of that stuff. It's definitely an Army thing to drill into their Soldiers.”
Orantes said dog handlers, and even combat medics, play a key part in ensuring MWDs get the care they need in a timely manner.
“They’re the ones that provide that immediate care at the point of injury,” she said.
Studies and research have shown that if the medical intervention time is decreased following an injury, she said, the survivability rate and length of work time for that dog can be increased.
“So it is very imperative that we train them consistently and to do it correctly,” she said.