FORT GREGG-ADAMS, Va. — Members of the 544th Military Police Detachment (Military Working Dog) and the installation veterinary team turned up the heat on training local military working dogs and their handlers Sept. 5-8, 2023, with temperatures reaching nearly 100 degrees — well past the dog days of summer.
About 50 service members and local emergency personnel collaboratively enhanced their skills in nearly record-high, central Virginia temperatures.
About 15 wore fur coats to the intense and immersive training, which featured hands-on and paws-on tasks like canine tactical combat casualty care, scent detection and canine bite work.
Dog handlers and veterinary treatment facility personnel monitored the body temperature of their dogs, kept them hydrated and as cool as possible in the heat.
“A lot of audibles were called today with the hot weather, but we’re moving and adapting,” said Army Capt. Rachel Bear, the officer-in-charge of the Fort Gregg-Adams Veterinary Treatment Facility. She was speaking specifically in reference to the culminating range simulation experience day, which featured a dog hoist medevac helicopter.
The simulation day was designed to incorporate crawl, walk, run phases. It also included a military working dog patrol on a mock Forward Operating Base that resulted in mock canine casualties, canine tactical combat casualty care with a simulated stress environment, followed by the medevac.
“The dog getting on the helicopter, that’s how we’re moving dogs in theater typically, at least currently in counterinsurgency,” said Army Capt. Cortney Curtis, Fort Gregg-Adams Veterinary Services Branch chief. “We have a few [dog handlers] who just got back from Iraq, and when they caught a ride, it was a UH-60 [Black Hawk helicopter]. So, we’re making sure the dogs are accustomed to getting on the helicopters.”
The aviation team members and medics also must become accustomed to working with hoisting dogs by harness and cable in an emergency setting.
“The hoist is a little bit more unique,” Curtis said. “That was an opportunity that this specific helicopter team really appreciated having the extra experience with and they don’t hoist dogs very often.”
Along with fixing the dog to its harness and the cable, personnel also practiced outfitting the dogs with canine-specific eye protection called “Rex Specs” and a muzzle.
Usually when dogs and their handlers travel by helicopter overseas, they simply step onto it while it’s running, known as hot loading. This was also practiced by the dogs, their handlers and the members of the Virginia National Guard’s Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 169th Aviation Regiment — a medical evacuation detachment — as part of the simulation day.
The inaugural MWD Week training was a joint, community exercise with police department personnel from Chesterfield, Hopewell and Prince George counties working with Kenner Army Health Clinic medics and service members across four branches from Fort Myer, Fort Eustis and Yorktown Kennels.
“I think the biggest focus on an event like this is just the number of pieces, the number of stakeholders that come together to better the care for our working dogs throughout multiple commands across multiple installations for the military,” Bear said. “It really just shows that there’s a large population of our military that’s very invested in our working dogs and is committed to making sure that they make it home safely.”
PHA-Fort Liberty, which the Fort Gregg-Adams Veterinary Treatment Facility falls under organizationally, also sent a handful of personnel to the MWD Week training to assist.
“We hope this becomes an annual event, and we can invite all of the kennels in the region or even outside of the region,” Bear said. “We invite the local police departments if they want to come in and cross train with us as well.”
The Army uses MWD teams in garrison and combat support missions including area security; movement and mobility support operations; law and order; and force protection, including narcotic, human, landmine, firearm, ammunition and explosive detection.
“When you talk about their two main purposes, it’s going to be detection — so finding either narcotics or explosives — and then they have a second job, and that’s patrol work, so that’s bite work, so biting bad guys,” Curtis said.
This MWD Week, then, was relatively comprehensive in its coverage of key MWD skills, including apprehension and detection training, a stress shoot and night patrol lanes.
The idea to host a MWD Week training exercise grew organically out of informal and formal discussions on meeting the demands of training needs, Bear said.
Then, with the support of PHA-Fort Liberty and Fort Gregg-Adams, the 544th and the Fort Gregg-Adams Veterinary Team just went ahead and made it happen.
“We’re getting into conversations about what the next fight is going to be, so large-scale combat operations and what we’re expecting to see in combat there, things like mass casualties with medics sitting on their patients for upwards of two days,” Curtis said. “So, the main scope of this was preparing our military working dogs for the future fight that the United States Army is expecting to have.”