By Spc. Cody A. Thompson/40th PADFebruary 4, 2011
FORT BRAGG, N.C. - Detecting bombs, locating narcotics, chasing bad guys and saving lives; this is just another day of play for a military working dog and his handler. With such a demanding job, they have to constantly train. The culmination of the training is an annual certification course which took place on Fort Bragg, Jan. 10 through the 14.
"There are teams from Fort Stewart, Ga., Fort Hood, Texas, Fort Bragg and Fort Riley, Kan. going through the certification process," said Sgt. 1st Class James Bockelmann, the kennel master of the 42nd Military Police Detachment, 16th Military Police Brigade. "The certification includes patrol, obedience, subject apprehension and retention, and explosives or narcotics detection."
Staff Sgt. William Taylor, a patrol narcotics detector dog handler with the Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment, 385th MP Battalion said that he understands the significant edge that a well trained canine can provide.
"A dog's sense of smell is a lot better than a human's sense," said Taylor, who is stationed Fort Stewart, Ga. "The most important part is that the dog maintains proficiency because they are a psychological deterrent. Someone would think twice about messing with the guy standing next to a big dog."
All military working dogs begin their training at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas and must be recertified each year thereafter.
"A new dog is like a private right off the street," said Bockelmann, a Westminster, Md. native. "We usually get the dogs at the age of two.
All dogs and handlers go to a course at Lackland, and it's like their basic training and AIT (Advance Individual Training). Once they come to the unit their training is extended."
The first part of the certification process dealt with obedience training and apprehending a suspect at the K-9 unit's main office. Afterward, the teams transitioned to the Fort Bragg Skate Rink, where the dogs had to find either an explosive training aid upstairs or narcotics aid downstairs.
"They are able to get narcotics off of the street by using the dog's natural ability to smell," said Sgt. Jeffery Smith, a patrol explosive detector dog handler with the 42nd MP Det., 16th MP Bde.
The dog's ability to smell is tested again as the teams work on finding narcotics inside of a terminal on Pope Air Force Base, and explosive training aids in the woods next to McKeller's Lodge.
"As a handler, you don't want to go where your dog hasn't been," said Smith, a Hanover, Pa. native. "On a search, the handler stands in the middle of the road and lets the dog search six vehicles ahead of him. It's like a bound and over watch, where the dog searches 20 to 50 meters ahead of the handler and then they are given more leash as they move up."
The training will translate into real-world situations, since most of the teams being certified will deploy to Afghanistan soon. Whether it is for their first or third time together, all of the teams will arrive trained and ready to search, find and seize the contraband that endanger the lives of women, children, Soldiers and canine counterparts.