Military working dogs and their handlers conducted crucial helicopter training at the National Training Center on Fort Irwin, Calif., Dec. 11, 2019.
Teams from Edwards Air Force Base, Marine Corps Logistics Base-Barstow, Fort Irwin and Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., descended upon the NTC aboard a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter. The helicopter ride trained the dogs to be acclimated to helicopters, said Fort Irwin Police Chief Jason Doughty.
“It gives them a real-world exposure to the helicopters,” Doughty said. “It’s not natural for a dog to want to get on a helicopter, there’s a lot of vibration, a lot of noise, and (the training) acclimates the dogs to that.”
The teams off-boarded the helicopters and directly conducted two detection training lanes each; one for narcotics and another for explosives. The dozens of training villages at the NTC allows the dogs and handlers a vastly different experience from the environment found at their home bases where the austere environment the NTC provides is perfect for training said Staff Sgt. Steven Vincent, 412th Security Forces Squadron out of Edwards AFB.
“It’s a very good training opportunity for us that we don’t always get to see, but it’s always good to be involved with as much as we can,” Vincent said. “You want to be prepared for real-world events. So in the event when our dogs eventually make it downrange, they’re able to be effective in any sort of situation that might be adverse.”
Empty shipping containers are arranged and fabricated to look like real domiciles. The streets are littered with debris and furniture that heighten the realism of a lived-in village. The NTC’s mission is to conduct tough, realistic, Unified Land Operations with Unified Action Partners to prepare Army Brigade Combat Teams and other units for combat.
“For the explosives (lane), we tried and set up more of a like deployed environment where the MWDs would go through these mock … buildings and check roadways and see how well these dogs would pick up the odors in these more foreign environments,” Vincent said.
Vincent explained that handlers looked for certain behaviors among their dogs; specifically when dealing with explosives. He said that with explosives, they want the dogs to be more delicate with the area, but still be able to signal their handler that they have found something.
Vincent stressed the importance of Security Forces Airmen to remain flexible and mission-ready.
“They have to be able to get the dogs on the (helicopter) for quick transports, we have to be able to make sure they’re adaptable; that they’re not going to cause any detriment to the mission or to their own handler and … they know what they’re doing as they get off; they’re ready for business,” he said.
Training with four different installations, including an air asset provided by A Company, 2916th Aviation Battalion, further enhances readiness and cohesiveness between the different agencies involved.
“We have memorandums of understanding with most of them; where they assist us and we assist them, so it’s good for us to work together,” Doughty said. “Plus, it gives us a different exposure to different types of training; the Air Force does things a certain way and the Army does as well, so when we get together then we can share experiences and training.”
Vincent mirrored the FIPD chief’s sentiment as well. He also added that the training conducted enhances his unit’s readiness when it comes to base security, possible future deployments and co-working with other bases and civilian agencies.
“It’s important for us to have close relations with our sister branches and local PDs because we’re trying to build a good rapport, we also want to have a good understanding of how our sister branches (and local PDs),” he said. “We just want to have any sort of cohesiveness we can. So in the times we do have to work together, which is actually pretty common in our career field, we need to kind of blend the lines where it’s not too foreign between each other and it just helps build the bond.”
The joint training session, which was the first of its kind at the NTC, was a success overall said Staff Sgt. Katie McDermott, 99th Security Forces Squadron out of Nellis AFB. McDermott, as well as the other handlers agreed that they would like to keep having the opportunity to conduct training at the NTC.
“I think it went really well; I think some dogs got a little bit nervous, and then they were still able to come out and do their job,” she said. “Some dogs handled it like they’ve done it their entire lives.”