The station’s K-9 section was given a chance to show Army generals, colonels, command sergeants major and several top-level Department of Defense civilian personnel the capabilities well-trained dogs bring to the field of battle.
During a yearly exposition of the U.S. Army Test and Evaluation Command’s capabilities, the section took two of their dogs and four of their Marines to assist in the field portion of the conference.
The conference rotates between the Army’s several test centers, giving the leaders a taste of Yuma’s infamously hot summers one year, while another year could hold Alaska’s bitterly cold winter, or a sweltering stint in the humid South.
Normally, the Yuma Proving Grounds’ Inter-Service Advanced Skills K-9 course would put on such a display, however, they were busy with night-time pre-deployment training for K-9 teams preparing for combat deployments. Due to the course’s intensive training regimen, the station’s teams were happy to step in to lend a few hands and paws to the cause.
“The training the course provides is absolutely life saving,” said Cpl. Andrew Kowtko, station military working dog handler, who attended the course prior to his latest deployment to Afghanistan. “I wouldn’t send a K-9 team downrange or into a hazardous environment without it. It’s vital to understanding how you and your dog will react in various situations.”
Indeed, a large part of the section’s mission at the demo was to show how vital the course is to not just military working dog teams, but to the military as a whole. Handlers and their four-legged partners from every branch of military service and even various federal law enforcement agencies attend the course before going into harm’s way. The area’s astounding resemblance to the terrain of Afghanistan helps the teams adapt to their future working environment before travelling overseas.
Facing budget cuts, many military working dog handlers are justifiably worried the vital, life-saving course may cease to exist.
“We’re here to show them some of the capabilities our teams bring to the troops in the field,” said Staff Sgt. Jeffery Worley, station kennel master. “We’re out here showing them what we can do, what we love to do. It’s always a privilege to show what our dogs are capable of, and help people better understand what it is we do.”
The demo illustrated the teamwork that goes into the successful location of explosive devices, but couldn’t resist showing the spectators the crowd favorite; aggression work.
“We don’t always use the dogs for aggression work in combat zones, we use them more for locating explosives than people, but many are capable of doing both,” explained Worley. “These aren’t field dogs, they’re garrison dogs, dual purpose trained to locate contraband items and do patrol duties, also known as aggression work.”
Other stations at YPG’s Graze Range included armored vehicles, aviation displays and hands-on, live-fire demonstrations of .50 caliber and 7.62mm machine guns.
Amid the near-deafening roar of intermittent machine gun fire, the K-9 teams performed flawlessly, locating hidden training aids and apprehending shady looking suspects hiding in the desert fauna. While the teams made it look easy, it’s their constant training and dedication each other that make their work look easy to the untrained eye.
The demonstrations had every attendee’s full attention and admiration.
“This has been a great demonstration, on everyone’s part,” said Army Maj. Gen. Genaro Dellarocco, ATEC commanding general. “I really appreciate the hard work everyone has put into this, and would call this a definite success.”