By Jorge Gomez and Mike StrasserOctober 23, 2007
FORT LEE, Va. (Army News Service, Oct. 23, 2007) -- They were not graded on a learning curve, but there's no doubt among the dog-handling teams that the educational aspect of competition was a big part of the 2007 U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command Military Working Dog Warrior Police Challenge last week on Fort Lee.
The four-day competition challenged the teams to detect explosives and narcotics, search for personnel, apprehend suspects, negotiate obstacles and complete various canine-related tasks in a mystery event disclosed Friday.
Sgt. Jason Bird and his dog Kondi from the 217th Military Police Detachment, Fort Lee, Va., were named the Top Military Working Dog Team at an awards banquet Oct. 19. The team placed first in the Narcotics Detection event, and along with Spc. Matthew Hoffman, were awarded the Top Kennel award for Fort Lee, Va.
Spc. Hoffman also earned a third-place award in the Building and Area Search event with his dog Roxy.
Earlier last week, Sgt. Bird said no matter how the competition ended, he and Kondi had made great strides as a military working dog team.
"I came in as a new handler and Kondi was a new dog," said Sgt. Bird, who has been with the Military Working Dog program for 11 months. "She was barely able to do the basic commands without a lot of motivation. I've seen her come along both in obedience and detection. She's come a real long way and it's real gratifying to see."
Staff Sgt. Jonathan Parsons, Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., earned the Top Specialized Search Dog Team award with his dog Buddie. He said it is important for dog handlers to take every event as a serious challenge to overcome and spend every moment possible with their partner.
"You've got to spend as much time with your dog as possible," said Staff Sgt Parsons. "The more you put into training, the more you'll get out of it. And the longer you spend with your dog, the better a team you will be."
Brig. Gen. Jesse R. Cross, incoming Quartermaster Center and School commanding general, congratulated the award winners for putting their skills to the test throughout the week-long challenge.
"You've been tested in every mission," said Cross, naming off the list of events. "...It's amazing to have seen how you're able to perform in different environments and with all the distractions presented to test you."
TRADOC Command Provost Marshal Col. Keith Blowe said going beyond what the dog teams are used to is what ultimately puts them at the top of their field.
"We pattern this competition on what these teams will be asked to do, whether in Iraq, Afghanistan or on any installation," said Col. Blowe. "If anything, we make it more difficult to be sure the dogs are, in fact, doing their jobs and are tested to their fullest capabilities."
Sgt. 1st Class Theodore McCall, TRADOC military working dog manager, said the competition enhances the training of the teams.
"(The handlers) are learning techniques from each other they can take back to their duty stations and become more proficient teams," Sgt. 1st Class McCall said.
Handlers launched into the competition Tuesday with an Army Physical Fitness Test and began their first team event with explosive and narcotics detection. The specialized search dog teams conducted an open area detection.
For the patrol and explosives/narcotics detection event, handlers were tested on their ability to recognize the different movements of the dog as it sniffs out a training aid (explosive or narcotics), said Spc. Iliana Cisneros, 217th Military Police Detachment.
"The dogs are trained to sit when they find the training aid, but sometimes there might be other odors that mask the narcotics or explosive," Spc. Cisneros said. "The dog might be unsure, and it's up to the handler to recognize that there might be something there but the dog is not sitting."
Staff Sgt. Raymond Nelson, Fort Belvoir, said his dog, Brix, starts sniffing and moving fast when he's trying to figure out where the training aid is. His dog isn't trained to bark for detection; that's normally the function of a patrol search.
In its second year, the competition brought teams from all parts of the Army, two teams from the Marine Corps and a civilian team from Colonial Heights, Va. New to this year's competition was the specialized search dog team events. Specialized search dogs are capable of doing a search at a distance from the handler, Sgt. 1st Class McCall said.
"The dogs are capable of responding and telling the handler there is an explosive device without the handler having to be really close to the dog," Sgt. 1st Class McCall said.
Sgt. Jason Alber, Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., conducted the route detection event Wednesday with his dog named Eva. He said he was pleased with Eva's performance, given they both just graduated from Specialized Search Dog School at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, in August. They were able to identify two positive spots.
During the half-mile search, Sgt. Alber commanded Eva to explore the route as far ahead as he could keep sight of her, which could be up to 150 meters. The distance protects the handler in case an explosive is set off by the dog.
"I keep my eye on Eva because I don't want to let the enemy harm my dog," Sgt. Alber said. "The aim is save lives, and I can't do that if my tool is taken away from me."
(Jorge Gomez and Mike Strasser write for the Fort Lee Traveller newspaper)