Story by Army Sgt. Charlie Helmholt
139th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
SIR SERETSE KHAMA BARRACKS, Botswana - Soldiers from the U.S. Army Reserves' 949th Medical Detachment Veterinary Services out of Ames, Iowa, met and trained with members of the Botswana Defense Force Military Police and their canine companions, military working dogs, Aug. 6 during Southern Accord 2012.
Southern Accord is a combined, joint exercise which brings together U.S. military personnel with counterparts from the BDF to conduct humanitarian assistance/disaster relief operations, peacekeeping operations and aeromedical evacuation, to enhance military capabilities and interoperability. SA12 has given participating parties the opportunity to meet and exchange ideas and information through classes and hands-on activities.
"It's been a fantastic experience," said Capt. Frank M. Cerfogli, a veterinarian from Madrid, Iowa, with the 949th Medical Detachment.
"We've been able to meet with all the BDF military dog handlers, and we have had classroom- type lectures to address the dog's basic care. The emphasis has been on the medical exam... head to toe," said Cerfogli.
Helping to identify medical problems earlier will help BDF's dog handlers stave off problems which could progress to larger and more serious situations later, said Cerfogli.
After three days of classes and hands-on demonstrations by the American vets, it was time for the BDF to take center stage. The dogs were put through a series of drills which demonstrated their training in obedience, aggression and specific scent identification.
The dogs obeyed commands given exclusively by their trainer, while multiple trainers yelled commands simultaneously. During the next exercise, the dogs completed an obstacle course, jumping through hoops and over obstacles.
The final round of demonstration saw handlers hiding samples of drug paraphernalia, gunpowder and explosives, and having the dogs successfully find and identify each substance through their feedback to the instructor.
For example, a dog would normally dig to find drug paraphernalia. However, if they detected a possible explosive substance, they cautiously lay near it making sure not to disturb the package.
"Dogs are man's best friends, you can trust them and use them to protect people and their property," said Staff Sgt. Boipuso Ntlhabang, a dog-handling instructor with the BDFMP. "These dog handlers work diligently to improve their section's skills."
U.S. forces praised the professionalism of the BDF dogs and their trainers.
"If there is one thing I would stress, it would be how obedient the dogs were, especially off leash," said Sgt. 1st Class Julie M. Niekamp from Spring Valley, Wis., the operations non-commissioned officer for the 949th and a full-time veterinary assistant outside the military. "How devoted and 'eyes on' the dogs were with their specific instructor, that was very impressive."
Cerfogli echoed this sentiment.
"The Botswana training seems to be some of the best we've seen...comparable to others I've seen from the U.S. and NATO," he said.