MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. --
Searching and sniffing for anything suspicious, military working dog teams provide a unique layer of security for Marines while forward deployed, operating alongside as their handlers clear patrol routes and conduct vehicle searches on the front lines.
Marines with 1st Law Enforcement Battalion, I Marine Expeditionary Force, incorporated their military working dogs into their many training evolutions during Exercise Desert Scimitar 2015 aboard Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, California, April 9, 2015, by practicing patrolling, identifying simulated roadside bombs and conducting vehicle searches.
Desert Scimitar enables 1st Marine Division to test and refine its command and control capabilities while providing the opportunity for supporting units to hone essential warfighting skills.
“The purpose of 1st Law Enforcement Battalion’s s training here with the dog handlers is to get both the dog and the Marine used to working with a full load of equipment,” said Gunnery Sgt. Arturo Belmonte, a military policeman and operations chief with Alpha Company, 1st Law Enforcement Battalion, I Marine Expeditionary Force. “We try to simulate a combat environment as best as we can so that the dogs can get used to performing at that level,” he added.
The relationship between the dog and handler is crucial to enabling the teams to work as a cohesive unit, said Belmonte.
“To be able to do this type of training with a dog, you need to have a basic relationship and understanding with them,” said Cpl. Gerard V. Scparta, a military policeman and dog handler with 1st Law Enforcement Battalion, I Marine Expeditionary Force. “I need to know that when I send my dog to a certain location, not only will he go there, but he will stay there. Everything we do is founded on that relationship.”
Conducting searches and bite sessions in an outdoor training environment allows each handler to learn how their dog operates and allows the dog to become accustomed to seeing Marines in a combat load, according to Scparta.
In addition, it’s also important for Marines to accustom themselves to wearing a combat load.
During a surprise vehicle search exercise, Scparta and his working dog, Quick, rehearsed and refined their skills while conducting the search by thoroughly examining each section of the vehicle. A scented plastic bar is hidden within a random location of the vehicle simulating drug paraphernalia or an Improvised Explosive Device.
“This training really helps you notice the small things while working with your dog,” said Scparta. “Going into this training and not knowing where the scent bar is hidden helps to get the natural reaction from the dog.”
Getting a genuine response from the dog in a new environment and recognizing the signals it displays allows the team to do their job more efficiently, Scparta added.
“I have been with my dog for a short while, nearly a year, and we’ve been steadily building our relationship,” said Scparta. “To build that relationship means getting to know a dog by observing how they train for real-world searches and patrols. I’d have to say that this was the fastest search Quick and I have successfully made so far. It usually takes us eight to 10 minutes, but this one was well under five.”
Scparta stated that the relationship isn’t forced, but built from their four-legged partner’s willingness to please and get rewarded. It not only helps with the actual training, but it makes it enjoyable to do so, added Scparta.
The 1st Law Enforcement Battalion working dog teams train consistently, according to Belmonte. By employing the tactics, techniques and procedures of other working dog teams across the U.S. military, they are prepared for any environment they may face, evolving, innovating and adapting so that they can be ready to respond to any crisis across the globe.