FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. — It’s not every day that Soldiers and military working dogs with the 180th Military Police Detachment rappel out of windows or fly in Black Hawk helicopters, but if a mission calls for these skills, they will be ready, thanks to last week’s field training exercise.
Sgt. 1st Class Brandon Spears, 180th MP Detachment kennel master, said field training is vital to the organization because the MWD teams deploy so often — all around the world.
“We have MWD teams from Fort Leonard Wood forward deploy on full rotations constantly, and the training they receive must emulate many different possible scenarios,” he said. “These Soldiers and MWDs had a very tough week of training, but they all came out of it much better and are better prepared for future operations because of it.”
During the five-day exercise, Spears said MWD teams were woken up in the middle of the night by gunfire, simulating an enemy attack; they learned how to tie a make-shift harness and rappel their dog; and they had to clear buildings in the dark and maintain their bearings in a Black Hawk making tactical turbulent maneuvers.
Spears said the purpose of the FTX was to, “evaluate the MWD detachment’s mission essential tasks and to give the MWD handlers a realistic replication of how their forward deployments could be.”
According to Spears, the Soldiers and their four-legged battle buddies started the FTX with a ruck march, then were tested on operation orders and how they apply to MWD teams, entry control point operations, subterranean operations, MWD rappelling, loading and unloading on a helicopter, tactical combat casualty care, explosive ordnance detection and raid operations.
Spc. Joe Gomez, a military working dog handler for the 180th MWD Detachment, said training exercises like this, “allow us to identify our deficiencies and work on them. It gives us more experience and allows us to be confident in our jobs.”
Gomez said the FTX simulated a deployment, down to handling gear and briefing leadership.
“Some areas we can deploy to aren’t aware of our MWDs capabilities, and we have to be able to explain it to leaders. They need to be able to trust us because we are usually in the front of the formation, clearing the path.”
Gomez said the six-mile ruck march, while carrying all their gear, was one of the most physically demanding events for him, but not his energetic six-year-old partner, Beno.
“We have rucked longer before, but these hills — it was up and down, up and down. Beno just wanted to run the whole way, which makes it harder for me because I am trying to lean forward and ruck with a lot of weight on my back,” Gomez said.
Spears said this FTX is an annual event, but he tries to schedule helicopter training several times a year.
Company B, 1st Battalion, 135th Aviation Regiment, a Missouri National Guard assault helicopter unit at Whiteman Air Force Base, supported the exercise by providing the Black Hawks, according to Spears.
He said helicopter training is imperative because it exposes the MWDs, “to the loud noises and intensity of the aircraft itself.”
“Due to helicopters being an immense part to a vast amount of different operations, MWDs have to be accustomed to the aircraft,” Spears said.
Gomez said this field training mission was the first time he had ever been in a helicopter — but not for Beno.
Gomez has been with Beno for about two years and said the German Shepard got experience flying on helicopters before they were paired up. He said his dog’s personality is often lively, but when it came time to board the Black Hawk, he got to see Beno’s game face.
“Beno was super calm. He has a lot of energy, but on the helicopter, he just laid down and was fine with it,” he added.
Gomez said he enjoyed his first flight with Beno, even though it wasn’t a smooth ride. He said the pilots were doing some rapid tactical maneuvers to simulate what they might experience on a deployment.
“It was crazy. It was louder than in the movies, with the rotor going. And you can see everything. It was cool to see Fort Leonard Wood from the air,” Gomez said. “Some of it felt like a roller coaster — at one point I got a little nauseous.”
Gomez said his favorite part of the FTX was getting to work on room clearing. He said the experience helped him develop even more trust in his MWD.
“When searching at night, we rely on them more. We listen to their sniffing pattern and keep an eye on their movements because they can see better than we can,” Gomez said.
Gomez said while room clearing in the dark with Beno was beneficial to their relationship, the FTX as a whole brought them closer together — literally and figuratively.
“He was only a few feet away from me at all times. Our gear was set and ready to react to anything at any time. Every situation they threw at us was different, we had to be able to quickly adapt and overcome together,” Gomez said. “My dog goes everywhere I go, and I go everywhere my dog goes.”
According to Gomez, that is one of the reasons why the MWD teams had to learn how to rappel their dogs.
“If the only way out is through a window, we have to be able to get ourselves and our dogs out safely. We had to make the harness ourselves and lower them down — and Beno is a big dude,” Gomez said. “He hasn’t done it before, so we started at a one-story building, then went to a two-story building and finally a third-story window. He got his reward after each rappel. It puts them in an uncomfortable situation, so they can adapt and get used to it.”
Gomez said the FTX not only strengthened his bond with Beno, but his fellow Soldiers.
“We had limited details about where we were going. It was a real-world scenario. It makes you switch in to go-mode and that is when you really learn to trust your MWD,” Gomez said. “This also helped me learn to trust the people next to me. I work with them every day, but you get to know them differently when you see how they think and operate in combat situations. Some of the younger handlers were nervous, but I told them I was nervous, too. We had to hit the ground running, go with it and rely on our training and each other.”
More photos from the MWD field training exercise are available to view and download on the Fort Leonard Wood Flickr page.