National Guard August 2011 : Page 60

A Breed Apart By Bob Haskell Canin es a re m aking big co nt r ibuti o n s t o m an y c u rre nt o p er ati o n s , but o n ly o n e unit in th e Gua r d and R eser v es c an cl ai m wor king d o g s in it s r ank s Newtown, Conn. HE ARMY NATIONAL Guard acquired two con-siderably different kinds of military-police soldiers in February 2007. They came from Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, and reported for duty here at a recently renovated and somewhat remote home station in western Connecticut. They were subject matter experts in detecting a variety of explosives and narcotics. T 60 | Na tional Guard

A Breed Apart

Bob Haskell

Canines are making big contributions to many current operations, but only one unit in the Guard and Reserves can claim working dogs in its ranks<br /> <br /> THE ARMY NATIONAL Guard acquired two considerably different kinds of military-police soldiers in February 2007.<br /> <br /> They came from Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, and reported for duty here at a recently renovated and somewhat remote home station in western Connecticut. They were subject matter experts in detecting a variety of explosives and narcotics.<br /> <br /> Their singular names, unusual for soldiers, were Dasty and Jury.<br /> <br /> So, February 2007, one could argue, was when the Army Guard, specifically the Connecticut Army Guard, went to the dogs.<br /> <br /> Dasty and Jury, both German shepherds, and their handlers formed the first military working-dog team in the reserve components.<br /> <br /> More than four years later, Dasty and Jury are still on duty, and four more German shepherds are part of the 928th Military Police Detachment's Kennel Master Program, which has an annual operating budget of $100,000.<br /> <br /> Some 2,700 dogs are on duty in the U.S. military, The New York Times recently reported. But the 928th remains the only reserve-component unit of its kind, and Sgt. 1st Class Jimmie Smith, who commands the detachment, is believed to be the only certified and active kennel master in the Guard and Reserves.<br /> <br /> The dogs have changed his life.<br /> <br /> "I've always been a dog owner," Smith says. "I used to feed them and play with them. I knew that if you treat them nice, they'll treat you nice. But I never trained them until I went to the [Defense Department] Military Working Dog School at Lackland. Now I have a much greater appreciation for what dogs can do."<br /> <br /> The American public got a glimpse at these canine warriors recently. When Navy SEAL Team 6 found and killed Osama bin Laden on May 2, a dog named Cairo was part of the team. The dog's job was to track down anyone who tried to escape and to alert the SEALs if anyone was approaching.<br /> <br /> Cairo became a special-operations legend almost overnight. He is the only member of that super secret team to achieve celebrity status, or to be publicly identified for that matter. His part in the raid generated a groundswell of interest in military working dogs.<br /> <br /> Dasty, Jury and the other four Connecticut Guard dogs belong to a detachment staffed by eight full-time Army Guard soldiers that is part of the 192nd Military Police Battalion.<br /> <br /> The dogs and their handlers are frequently assigned to check personnel, buildings and vehicles for explosives and drugs and to patrol installations.<br /> <br /> "You can't hide anything from these dogs," says Smith, who has been the kennel master for as long as Connecticut has had its dogs. "We help commanders keep explosives and narcotics off their installations."<br /> <br /> The dogs come from the Defense Department's military working dog program that is administered by the Air Force at Lackland. The Air Force gets about 85 percent of its dogs from recognized breeders and the other 15 percent from a breeding program that the Air Force has recently started, says Gerry Proctor, spokesman for the training wing that includes the dog school at Lackland.<br /> <br /> The dogs, with their keen sense of smell, are expected to detect the odors of commonly used explosives or narcotics for which they are certified and to conduct basic scouting, patrolling and building searches when they come to Connecticut, Smith said.<br /> <br /> Trainers can take as long as six months to get their dogs socialized to their new surroundings and to be validated to actually perform their duties, he says. The detection standards are 95 percent for explosives dogs and 90 percent for narcotics dogs.<br /> <br /> Dogs train with the actual explosives and narcotics, such as TNT and marijuana, they are taught to find.<br /> <br /> The dogs in Connecticut have participated in high-profile security missions such as presidential and vice presidential details and Pope Benedict XVI's visit to New York City in 2008.<br /> <br /> The details of those duties are classified, but Smith acknowledges that his people frequently work with the Secret Service.<br /> <br /> Sniffing international mail packages for illegal contraband for U.S. Customs and searching ships with members of the Coast Guard are other entries in this unique Guard detachment's résumé.<br /> <br /> The Connecticut detachment's proximity to New York City, Washington, D.C., and other places along the northern East Coast makes the dogs accessible for those missions, says Capt. Corey Holmes, the MP battalion's chief of operations and its spokesman.<br /> <br /> "Business is good. The want for these dogs is very high. They get 15 or 20 utilizations a month for training and operational missions," says Holmes. "They do quite a lot of training with other agencies here in the state, but most of their operations are at the federal level."<br /> <br /> "We've been the eager kids on the block," says Staff Sgt. Gerald Fountaine II, the detachment's plans and training NCO and the first person hired for the program in 2005. "Someone wants us, we're there."<br /> <br /> "Most of the public isn't aware of what these dogs add to national security," says Proctor.<br /> <br /> "They give us a dimension that other states don't have," says Holmes.<br /> <br /> Smith, Fountaine and Dasty, along with Sgt. Jeffrey Holyst and Jury, were members of a U.S. military team that spent two weeks in April exchanging training methods with Philippines Armed Forces dog teams during Exercise Balikatan 2011 in the Philippines.<br /> <br /> That exercise was considered good training for the detachment that could be deployed to such places as Afghanistan where dogs are in great demand for detecting roadside bombs.<br /> <br /> If they are, they will not be the first dogs to go to war with the Connecticut Guard. That distinction belongs to Stubby.<br /> <br /> Pvt. J. Robert Conroy found the mixed-breed bull terrier in 1917 when the 102nd Infantry was training at Yale University in New Haven for World War I duty in France. Stubby became the regiment's mascot, and Conroy smuggled him overseas.<br /> <br /> The New York Times called Stubby "the most famous mascot in the American Expeditionary Force."<br /> <br /> Stubby was gassed on the front lines, recovered, and warned the soldiers of at least one other gas attack. And he was the first dog to receive an American military rank, sergeant, after catching a German soldier who was drawing maps of Allied positions.<br /> <br /> Unlike Stubby, the current Connecticut canines aren't mascots or pets. They're highly trained troops, expected to perform every time out. Nevertheless, tight bonds have developed between the dogs and their handlers.<br /> <br /> "They experience severe separation anxiety if they are separated for an extended period of time," Smith says. "All of our handlers have put in the papers to adopt their dogs when the dogs have to be retired."<br /> <br /> The dogs' dimension may expand in the next few years, perhaps in 2014, because of Defense Department directives that are being revised to govern the size of the kennels.<br /> <br /> Other details also would have to be worked out, such as the specific duties the new dogs would perform and if they would be German shepherds or gentler breeds, such as Labrador retrievers and bloodhounds.<br /> <br /> Although many are trained to attack, they primarily patrol for the substances they're trained to find. If they find something, they sit and wait for their handlers to take further action and to receive the rewards they've come to expect for making a find.<br /> <br /> Some dogs are trained to find explosives such as TNT, dynamite, water gel, C-4, detonating cord, and nitrate-based fertilizers used for homemade explosives. Others are trained to detect narcotics such as marijuana, heroin, cocaine and ecstasy.<br /> <br /> Considering, as Fountaine points out, that "dogs could be trained to find truffles," why are they not trained to find both explosives and drugs?<br /> <br /> The dog can only let his handler know it has found something, Fountaine says. It can't tell anyone what the substance is.<br /> <br /> "If a dog was trained to find both kinds of substances, and it sat down, the handler wouldn't know if it was a drug, which wouldn't blow up, or an explosive device that could kill people. The responses would be completely different–simply call a policeman or clear the building."<br /> <br /> Bob Haskell, a retired Maine Army National Guard master sergeant, is a freelance journalist in Falmouth, Mass. Contact him at magazine@ngaus.org. <br />

Previous Page  Next Page


Publication List
Using a screen reader? Click Here