News: Dog handlers prepare for Afghanistan
Story by Lance Cpl. John McCall
MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. – Dog handlers with 1st Combat Engineer Battalion put their improvised explosive device detection dogs to work Aug. 13, during the final day of a three-day training exercise.
The Marines were observed by instructors from American K-9 Interdiction who were present to provide feedback.
Training aids containing homemade explosive residue were hidden in surrounding areas to give IED dogs practice sniffing out the odor.
Before becoming a dog handler, Marines go through a five-week course that teaches them how to handle a dog properly, care for one and read their body language, according to James Todd, a dog trainer with AK-9I.
After completing the course, handlers are assigned to an IED detection dog, the same dog they will be using to defeat the IEDs in Afghanistan.
“After the course, they (dog handlers) come to Mojave Viper for more in depth training similar to what they will face in theater,” Todd explained.
Enhanced Mojave Viper is the Marine Corps’ desert warfare training program used to prepare Marines for tours in Afghanistan.
This particular training exercise gave Marines practice using their dogs in different situations and environments. Participants conducted a night sweep, Military Operations in Urban Terrain and training in mountainous terrain used to simulate rural areas in Afghanistan.
“A lot of the terrain features like the mountains and hills out here are very similar to those in Afghanistan,” said Cpl. Chuck Marion, 23, a dog handler with one deployment to Afghanistan under his belt.
Dog handlers were given the opportunity to not only use their dogs to conduct interior and exterior searches of buildings, but also practice room clearing techniques in an urban environment.
“We were able to do some good MOUT training using the dogs,” Marion, a Syracuse, N.Y., native said. “It helps the Marines and their dogs stay prepared for different environments.”
Handlers communicate with their dogs using whistle and hand signals to direct their movement. When an IED dog catches the scent of an explosive and hones in on it they use body language to communicate with the handler.
The handlers used what they learned from the course and successfully communicated with their dogs. They performed very well and found everything we hid, instructors said.
With the exercise finished, 1st CEB dog handlers continue to stay motivated and prepare for their future deployment to Afghanistan.