By Corinne Reilly
© January 4, 2010
Army Staff Sgt. Joseph Secrist was at his desk in a cramped office in Baghdad when the call came in: The American unit he was supporting in Iraq had a new tip about a nearby car repair shop. They were almost certain it was a front for an insurgent bomb-making factory, and they needed Secrist’s help.
He turned to his partner, Clara, who was lying on the floor next to him. It was time to go to work.
By 1 a.m. the next day, Secrist recently recalled, they were at the repair shop. It was the fall of 2007 and they were in one of the capital’s most volatile neighborhoods, Adhamiyah. Clara went inside first and immediately tensed up. Secrist read her signals: The tip was dead on – the shop was stockpiled with explosives.
Clara, now back home at Fort Eustis, is a military working dog. At 6 years old, she can carry out patrols, take down hostile suspects in war zones and sniff out bombs with an accuracy rate of more than 95 percent.
She is one of roughly 1,900 K-9s working for the U.S. military, doing jobs that range from base security to overseas narcotics detection. Dozens of dogs are stationed in the Hampton Roads area, and officials here say their contribution to America’s war-fighting capacity is growing increasingly important.
“Military working dogs are a force multiplier,” explained Secrist, who manages Eustis’ K-9 unit. “With the kinds of enemies we’re facing today and with all of our resources being stretched the way they are, their skills are in very high demand right now.”
Ten Virginia military installations keep K-9 units, including Langley Air Force Base, Oceana Naval Air Station and Yorktown Naval Weapons Station.
Fort Eustis is home to about a dozen military working dogs, mostly herding breeds, including German shepherds and Belgian Malinois. They are cared for, trained and handled by the base’s 221st Military Police
Detachment. In May, the unit was named the military’s top working dog kennel in a national competition.
The dogs’ main job is to provide on-base law enforcement, including walking Eustis’ perimeter, searching barracks and cars and guarding the front gates. Some of the dogs are trained to find narcotics and some to find explosives. Off base, they’ve assisted local police departments in responding to bomb scares at high schools and shopping centers, Secrist said.
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Military working dog teams protect Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst
Posted 1/5/2010 Updated 1/5/2010
by Steve Snyder
Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst Public Affairs
1/5/2010 – JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J. — It’s a dog’s life for members of military working dog teams stationed with the 87th Security Forces Squadron.
Dog handlers at McGuire and Lakehurst maintain kennels while training and taking care of canines under their charge. Military police and their animals work together to thwart security threats directed against military enterprises.
“Our main mission since 9/11 has been explosion detection,” said Tech. Sgt. Roland Lovitt, kennel master at McGuire, which houses 12 kennels and 10 dogs.
Military working dogs are also taught obedience as well as other skills such as how to attack (to protect their handler), how to sniff for specific substances, how to aid handlers in crowd control, how to warn handlers of imminent danger from behind and how to patrol areas including air fields, buildings and other locations.
More than 500 dogs are trained every year in a 120-day program at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, the vast majority being groomed to act as sentries and bomb-sniffers.
“We train them on about five different levels,” Sergeant Lovitt informs, adding that canine training involves huge doses of repetition while exposing the animals to different locations. Training begins when dogs are just a year-and-a-half to two-years old, and a military working dog can have a career lasting as long as 12 years.
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