Bliss hosts FORSCOM military working dog recertifications
Sgt. Brian C. Erickson,
24th Press Camp Headquarters:
Every year, military working dog handlers and their canine counterparts must go through a weeklong U.S. Army Forces Command recertification. This year the certification was held here at Fort Bliss.
Nine handlers and their dogs were present for the recertification. Three of them are stationed at Fort Bliss. The others are from Fort Campbell, Ky., Fort Bragg, N.C., Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., and Fort Polk, La.
“I have been through seven certifications. This one is good training,” said Staff Sgt. William McKay, dog handler from the 91st Military Police Detachment, Fort Polk. “I think we did very well.”
The dogs also come from different angles of training. Among the group are three types of dogs going through recertification. The drug dogs are known as Patrol Narcotics Detection Dogs, and the bomb dogs are known as Patrol Explosives Detection Dogs.
Joining them were also two Special Search Dogs, which also search for explosive devices. The difference is they are usually trained to detect while off the leash to allow them to get farther ahead of their handlers to detect improvised explosive devices.
During the weeklong recertification, the duos are put to the test every day in tasks ranging from road searches to bite drills.
“The process is to see if the handler can control his dog by working as a team,” said Sgt. 1st Class Anthony Bostwick, stationed at Fort Drum, N.Y., a certification official for FORSCOM. “The handler has to know how to use his dog.”
The certification started with searching through barracks. Handlers had to show the officials that their dogs are proficient by finding displaced civilians in the rooms.
Continuing the recertification, the pairs had to conduct a road search, but before they could start, the handlers had to complete a one-mile road march with their dogs. They also had to answer questions from a veterinarian about their dogs’ anatomy.
If they answered wrong the official simulated the dog’s death and the handler had to go back to the beginning and try again.
For the next part, the dogs had to search for a scent inside a blacked-out theater. The minimal light available was the lighting of the backstage area. The only light source available to aid in searching was a flashlight or a headlight on the handler’s head.
“Using minimal light is key to allow the dogs to use their night-vision skills in detecting the scent,” said Bostwick.
To finish off the certification, the handlers had to show their command over the dogs in the bite drills. During this drill, the dog shows his ability to take down an assailant. With just one word the dogs have to respond and make the right decision: either make the takedown or ease off the attack.
Every one of the handlers and canines that went through the recertification process received a passing score.
According to Staff Sgt. Matthew Hoctel, the kennel master for 72nd Military Police Detachment, Fort Bliss is used for the desert-like conditions similar to deployed conditions. The next certification planned by FORSCOM is in July here.
“This is the best job you could ask for as a military police officer,” said Spc. Augusto Gonzalez, dog handler with the 72nd MP Det. “It’s great ’cause you get paid to play with dogs.”
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