Hunter Army Airfield--

When Sgt. Daniel Franklin, an explosives detector dog handler, and his dog, Nikyta, stopped the shiny black car at Hunter's Rio Gate for a random explosive check, he never guessed those inside would be the Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield Garrison Commander Col. Kevin Gregory and Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield Command Sergeant Major Louis Felicioni. But then again, that's the nature of the unannounced checks, to stop a cross-section of the civilian and military population that goes in and out of Hunter Army Airfield.

"This has been an interesting day so far," said Sgt. Franklin, also an MP with the 93rd MP Detachment, about his first hour on duty making Random Antiterrorism Measures Program (RAMP) checks. "First Nikyta finds explosives, and now I pull over the garrison commander."

The contraband found by Nikyta, a four-year-old female Belgian Malinois who is trained to detect explosives, included 14 shotgun shells and 23 rounds of rifle 308 ammunition that a Soldier brought to the gate in his car. But since he wasn't carrying a weapon, he received no offense.

Nikyta is one of 16 canine working dogs at Fort Stewart, age three to nine years old, who conduct RAMP checks, said Sgt. Franklin. Both dogs and handlers are trained extensively at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas.

The working dogs include eight German Shepherds, six Belgian Malinois (or Belgian Shepherds dogs), one German Short Haired Pointer and one Brittany Spaniel, according to Capt. Douglas Bryant, the commander of 93rd Military Police Detachment, the working dog section. Capt. Bryant also commands the 197th Military Police Detachment, which is the Law and Order Detachment comprised a Detachment Headquarters Section, an Operations Section, an MP Desk Team an MP Traffic Investigation Team, an MP Investigation Team and a Force Protection Team. The 93rd MP Det. was formally part of the Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment, 385th Military Police Battalion. The 197th MP Det. is a new unit, consisting of Soldiers who were previously part of the Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield garrison.

Nine of the 16 dogs are patrol/explosive dogs who detect explosives before they harm military installations and activities. These dogs are trained to bite if necessary. Five of the dogs are used to detect narcotics, and are used in Health and Wellness checks of post barracks; and two are explosive/specialized search dogs, (who do not bite) when conducting RMP checks and building and neighborhood searches.

"The MWDs are trained to find human scent, narcotics or explosives," said Sgt. 1st Class Virdiana Lavalle, the kennel master at Fort Stewart, adding that no dog is trained to find both explosives and narcotics.

Dogs have long been recognized as "force multipliers" by military fighting forces around the world. They were initially used as pack animals by the U.S. military in the Revolutionary War. Their use advanced greatly in WWII to support U.S. military operations. In 1951, the responsibility of Military Working Dogs was given to the Military Police.

According to Sgt. 1st Class Lavalle, explosive and specialized search dogs are locating devices every day downrange in the Global War on Terror with their handlers.

"Probably the most rewarding part of my job is finding and removing IED [improvised explosives device] weapons or ammunition caches from the battlefield," said Sgt. Franklin. "It's good to know that when they're removed, those behind me, and the local population, can travel safely. When we do our job, coalition forces make it home."

Sergeant Franklin also mentioned the second best part of his job as an MP explosives detector dog handler.

"Of course, I also love working with the dogs," he said, "even though it often requires me to stay late and take extra time to train them. They're a lot of work, but they're also a lot of fun."
Sgt. 1st Class Lavalle agrees that working with dogs is the best job in the Army-- even with the additional responsibilities of overseeing the kennels, training the handlers and dogs, and performing validations, and certifications.

"This is my passion," she said. "I've been in love with this career field since I watched 'Rin Tin Tin' many years ago. At 12, I started reading about German Shepherds. This is why I joined the Army to be an MP canine officer.

"The working dogs are loyal and irreplaceable when it comes to saving lives. To see their desire and their drive to learn and please their handler is incredible. To work one-on-one with dogs and see their ability to communicate simply with words or a reward and accomplish what these canines do is also amazing."

If you wish to know more about military working dogs in the 93rd MP Detachment, contact Sgt. 1st Class Lavalle at 912-435-3123.