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The long nose of the law.

When Master-at-Arms 1st Class (SW) Derek Rolmar received a request to ensure a local conference center was properly screened for any possible explosives, he looked to his partner, an expert in detecting explosive-related materials for professional assistance.

Holman's partner scoured the area with an acute detective sense: searching under tables chairs corners, anywhere, and pausing only to examine a plate of unattended chocolate-chip cookies left out for those who were soon to visit.

"No, you can't have those," Holman instructed .

Too bad. His partner backed off the cookies and continued the search.

Holman is attached to Commander, Navy Region Mid-Atlantic (CNRMA) based in the Hampton Roads, Va., area. He and his partner, a six-year-old German shepherd named "Aramius," make up one of more than 30 military working dog (MWD) teams that serve the mid-Atlantic region. These specially trained Sailor/canine duos are highly dedicated, ready to serve anywhere -- at any time.

While cookies would be great, the reward Aramius really craves is his master's praise, or a simple opportunity to pay. That's what motivates him to work so hard for so many hours a day

"Dogs are very loyal," said MA2(SW) Brandy Garcia, of the K-9 unit at the Sewell's Point Precinct, Naval Station Norfolk.

Indeed they are, and that's what makes them suitable for military use. They take orders well ... no questions asked.

"Dogs don't talk back or argue," Holman added.

"That's why I like them."

The Navy currently uses more than 200 MWDs.

These dogs are used in three ways: drug detection, explosive detection or patrol duty. Dogs can even be dual-trained to be a patrol/drug dog or a patrol/explosive dog. DOD, for safety reasons, doesn't train explosive/drug dogs.

"Suppose your dog detected something and sat down," explained Holman. (Sitting is one way a dog indicates it's found something) "who do you call, security to make a [drug] bust or EOD (explosive ordnance disposal)?"

Drug-sniffing dogs have been trained to seek out a host of narcotic scents, such as marijuana and ecstasy. Explosive-sniffing dogs seek all types of explosive powders and materials, including detonation cord. Patrol dogs serve as a visual deterrent (big dog, big bite). They also assist by using their noses to sniff out a suspect in hiding, and if necessary, they can get physical, pursuing a suspect and attacking on command.

While these special dogs may have some natural abilities that make them perfect for the job, their basic training comes from one place: the DOD Military Working Dog Training School, operated by the 341st. Training Squadron at Lackland Air Force Base, San Antonio, Texas. The Transportation Security Administration also uses dogs trained at Lackland.

While some MWDs are bought in the United States, a large portion are purchased from vendors in Europe, as they provide a "purer-bred" dog with less joint and back problems then what is often found in American domestic breeds. Each dog is further screened to ensure it exhibits she behaviors that the military needs.

"We go to Europe and look at about 400 dogs a year," said MA1(SW/AW) David Highsmith, a MWD trainer at Lackland. "We look for searching behavior, biting ability and an ability to distinguish a wrap ( a thick burlap biting target that fits over the arm) from a person. We don't want a dog that will bite the wrap and not the man."

Once the dogs have been identified and purchased, they go through a four-month course at Lackland where they receive the basic-level of training required by all the services; how to sniff for explosives or drugs, and how to be a patrol dog.

Initially, explosive and drug dogs are introduced to their target scents through a type of shell game. Four small boxes with an opening on top are laid out in a room to teach the dogs two things; what that scent smells like, and what you get when your find it (a toy and verbal praise). To get the toy, you have to pick the right box.

Lackland even had special areas set aside to teach dogs to find scents in parked cars, luggage and aircraft fuselages, complete with seats.

Patrol dogs also receive aggression training for two reasons: to protect themselves and the handler, and to control their won natural aggression.

"A bullet, after it is fired, can't be brought back," said Air Force Senior Master Sergeant James Kohlrenken, operation superintendent of the 341st Training Squadron. "But a suspect might give up after the dog is released, which is why it's important to be able to teach the dog to cease its attack as the situation changes."

Patrol dogs are also taught how to properly conduct a building search. They are led through an empty building and graded on how effectively they pick out the correct door with a human decoy behind it. If the dog indicates a human presence by either scratching or barking, its handler issues a verbal warning. The handler and dog then bust through the door, and the dog is allowed to bite the decoy's wrap.

All this training gives MWDs the base knowledge they need to work with any branch of service. Dogs that will work for the Navy however, have td be trained to deal with additional obstacles such as ladder wells, fuel and paint fumes and the distraction of loud noises such as 1MC. How do sea service canines deal with it all?

"We introduce them to a ship environment and let them get used to all the noises and smells," said MACS Scott Kuhn, CNRMA regional kennel master/trainer. "It's just a matter of positive reinforcement through physical and verbal praise. Once he goes up the 'accom' ladder, he gets praised to let him know he's doing the right thing. Then, we get him on non-skid, and praise him again, and so on."

But a 70-pound dog can't go everywhere. In the Hampton Roads area, the Navy needed something not quite so big, to fit into submarines and smaller airplanes. So they sent a special request to Lackland for a small, energetic dog with a keen sense of smell for drug detection.

What the Navy got was "Juul," (sounds like jewel), a Jack Russell terrier, one of three in the Navy. Originally bred for fox hunting in England, Jack Russells have been around since the mid-1800s.

"We got her for her nose," said Kuhn. "She's our secret weapon. Because of her appearance, she and her handler could be walking through a park and people would think she's someone's pet."

According to some of the local MAs, Juul draws all kinds of attention when she's brought in for a drug sweep. Most people, who expect a big German shepherd, are astonished when they see a little terrier instead.

One person was even heard to say, "What's next? Is he Navy going to start training cats to sniff drugs?"

"Don't knock her," warns Garcia, Juul's handler, to anyone who would badmouth her partner. "If she detects drugs, she can ruin your career just as fast as me of our big dogs."

Juul's small size allows her to get into tight corners and under seats. If she picks up the odor of something he's been trained to detect, she will stand up on her mind legs and motion "up" with her nose. At that point, Garcia will lift up Juul to a higher shelf, or if necessary, hand-hold her while her nose goes to work.

In general, handlers love working with their dogs. And the dogs are always happy to see their handlers and go to work. "The energy they give you is just ncredible," said MA2 Robert Roller, an MWD trainer at Lackland. "It doesn't matter to them what kind of day or week you had."

So, the next time you see an MWD, big or small, from any branch of service, remember that these dedicated animals regularly put themselves at risk, searching for explosives, chasing suspects or seeking illegal drugs. What's more amazing is that they do it all for nothing more than a "good doggie" from their handler and a chance to play with a toy ... and maybe an occasional cookie if they can get away with it.

RELATED ARTICLE: Secret weapon unveiled. This 12-pound Jack Russell Terrier named Juul is no pet. She's one of the Navy's military working dogs, attached to the kennel at Naval Station Norfolk. Her size makes it impractical to use her as a patrol dog, but her sense of smell is so keen she can detect even trace amounts of drugs. She'll signal that she's found something by sitting, ruining the career of anyone who seeks to defy the Navy's "Zero Tolerance" drug policy.

* During their time at the DOD Military Working Dog Training School at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, prospective dogs go through specialized training to control their aggression so handles can recall them should the situation change. Unlike a bullet which, once fired, can't be called back, a dog can be taught to back off a suspect after loosening its grip.

* Vehicle inspections are part of the daily routine at Naval Amphibious Base Little Creek, Va MA1(SW) Derek Holman and Aramius sweep one truck after another for possible explosives

* Led by Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Ariel Peldunas, jumbo sticks his whole head deep into empty boxes on a quest to find a drug-scented training aid at Lackland Air Force Base.

* Juul sometimes needs a leg up from her handler MA2(SW) Brandy Garcia. Being small can somethimes be a huge advantage for Juul as she gets to go to all the places the big dogs can't.

* MA2 Bernie Gonzalez is one of the dog handlers at Lackland's Medina annex. "I like the satisfaction of knowing that once this dog gets out to the field, he's going to help somebody, maybe even save somebody's life."

* A dog/handler team closes in on a "decoy" hiding in the woods. The god picks up the smell downwind and zig-zags back and forth inside the "scent cone" cast by the decoy to determine the source location.

* Aramius sniffs a truck tire at one of the gates to Naval Amphibious Base Little Creek. No explosives here, just rubber.

* Military working dogs at Lackland learn how to detect a target odor in various settings. MA2(SW) David Miller leads Zony, a patrol/drug dog, on an exercise to detect a drug scent in luggage.

* It's feeding time at the Naval Station Norfolk kennels. Each dog is fed twice daily. One of the handlers comes behind later and tracks how much food was consumed and if any "presents" were left behind.

* Aramius and MA1(SW) Derek Holman are one of the dog/handler teams stationed at Naval Amphibious Base Little Creek, under Commander Navy Region Mid-Atlantic. A certified patrol/explosives detection dog, Aramius has performed many jobs with Holman, including security for the 2001 Presidential Inauguration.

Gunder is a photojournalist assigned to ALL Hands and a special assistant to Navy NewsStand at
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Title Annotation:military working dogs
Author:Gunder, Joseph
Publication:All Hands
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2002
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