K-9s, Marines provide special capability
CAMP HANSEN, OKINAWA, Japan -- Dogs have played important roles in military operations throughout history, serving as messengers, scouts, sentries and even combatants.
As the roles of militaries have changed both on and off the battlefield, so have the roles of canines. From locating hidden explosives in war zones to finding survivors following natural disasters, both military working dogs and their handlers accomplish these tasks by continuously training to accomplish a wide mission set.
Marines and their working dogs with 3rd Law Enforcement Battalion completed aggression and detection training June 11 on Camp Hansen.
“The aggression training gets the dogs to respond how we want,” said Sgt. Joseph E. Fahrenbach, a military working dog handler with 3rd LE Bn., III Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Group, III MEF. “During the training, the dogs are hunting for the freshest human scent they can find. Once they acquire a scent, they start aggressing toward the door to let the handler know they found something. The handler will then let the dog go after the decoy.”
A volunteer with a bite sleeve or suit serves as the decoy, allowing the handlers to provide their working dogs with positive reinforcement.
“We keep everything positive for the dog,” said Fahrenbach. “Having the dogs learn that getting a bite is a good thing is what we are going for. That is why when we train, we encourage the dogs, get them excited, and reinforce that idea.”
Using dogs to search-out and subdue possible suspects is not the only job for Marine working dogs.
“Using specialized dogs allows us to search for people or explosives,” said Sgt. David A. Martinez, a military working dog handler with 3rd LE Bn. “The dogs are trained to work in various environments including open areas, compounds, inside or outside of buildings.”
The training conducted by the handlers and the dogs helps maintain all around proficiency for both, according to Martinez.
The proficiency of a handler and their canine has an impact that extends beyond the military working dog team.
“You have to know your job extremely well,” said Lance Cpl. Melanie K. Chesnut, a military working dog handler with 3rd LE Bn. “The responsibility that you have is incredible. You have to take care of not only yourself, but your dog and the Marines in your assigned unit.”
Fostering the teamwork between the dog and handler, and by extension other Marines, starts with knowing your dog, according to Chesnut.
“You have to be really attentive towards your dog,” said Chesnut. “We train almost every day of the week and visit the dogs on our own time. Each visit helps the partnership.”
The military working dog teams have earned a well-deserved reputation with operational units through the proficiency they have displayed in the past.
This partnership is on display every time the handlers and dogs go out with another unit or onto a different installation to help accomplish their mission, according to Chesnut.
“It is definitely a morale booster,” said Chesnut. “When people see us they know that we are there to support them and make sure they are safe. The dogs have earned that respect, and much more, for everything they have done for our country.”