January 15th, 2007 03:59 EST
The Nose Knows: Four-legged Troops Sniff Out Explosives
FORWARD OPERATING BASE LOYALTY, Iraq - Two of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team’s most valuable assets never talk about work, preferring to let the results speak for themselves.
Even with their quiet demeanor, they have uncovered numerous weapons caches and explosives, and have become two of the most popular members of the unit.
They are the unit’s two military working dogs, Blacky and Frisko. The dogs are trained to sniff out explosives and chase down insurgents. Getting them ready for those essential tasks is up to the handlers.
Blacky, a 2-year-old German shepherd with a dark chocolate coat and handled by Air Force Tech Sgt. Michael Jones.
Jones, from Kingswood, W. Va. The team is attached to the 2nd Battalion, 17th Field Artillery Regiment.
The other dog team with 2-17th FA consists of Frisko, a 6-year-old black-and-brown German shepherd and handler Senior Airman Adam La Barr of Rome, N.Y.
The initial training takes about 90 days. The first step is getting the handler and dog comfortable with each other. Handlers bathe and groom the dogs and learn each other’s personalities. Next, the dogs are drilled in obedience, and they begin sniffing for explosives.
All that time and training pays off on the battlefield. Merely having a dog along pays dividends against insurgents, said Jones.
“Just seeing a dog deters them from running away or trying to pass weapons and explosives through,” he said.
But the intimidation and heightened senses would be useless without human input.
“The dog and handler are a team,” Jones said. “One can’t work without the other.”
Part of the handler’s role is to point out areas for the dogs to search. Handlers base the dog’s training plan around areas the dog needs to improve.
“Blacky is not as good at finding things high up…so in training, I make it where he would want to go up high. I put a couple of training aids up, to show him, sometimes, it’s up there,” Jones said.
In the real world, though, the trainer wouldn’t know where the bomb is placed. This is where the dog’s nose comes in handy, and the handler has to understand the dog.
When Blacky comes upon a suspected explosive, he reacts passively.
“He won’t be aggressive, he won’t paw at it,” Jones said. “We don’t want that, if there’s a bomb in there. (The explosive ordnance disposal team) gets paid to go in and mess with it.”
Instead, Blacky sits by the suspected explosive or lies down, if it is lower. Sometimes the response can be even more subtle.
“I look for changes in his behavior, to see when he’s curious about something,” Jones said.
Frisko reacts in a similar way, but each dog has his own method, La Barr said.
The dogs teams’ workload is intelligence-driven, but they usually go on about five missions each week. While the basic job is always the same, it’s an ever-changing game.
“We adapt our techniques to what the enemy would be using,” Jones said.
The dogs have found multiple weapons caches and explosives, he added. When they find something, the dogs get a treat, of sorts. Jones or La Barr breaks out a misshapen lump of rubber that vaguely resembles a beehive. Blacky and Frisko get to play with the object as the reward for making a find.
“They know if they find something, they’re going to get that one toy and they’re excited,” La Barr said.
While people naturally gravitate to the dogs, Jones said it’s important to remember they are not pets.
“Everyone thinks they can play with them,” he said. “They are trained to be handler-protective. He’s still an animal.”
As such, the handlers never allow anyone to pet the dogs. “That might soften them up, or it could be seen by the dog as an attack,” La Barr said.
Both handlers said working with dogs is a great job.
“A lot of people over here miss their pets,” La Barr said. “He’s not a pet, but I have a dog I can relate to.”
By Staff Sgt. W. Wayne Marlow
2nd BCT, 2nd Inf. Div. Public Affairs