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Leashed power: a look inside PMO’s kennels

By Lance Cpl. Jenn Farr | | September 19, 2006

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In World War II an elite force began training for war. By 1945, this force was like an army of it’s own with 10,000 serving in the Marines, Navy, Army, Air Force and Coast Guard. This distinct group of individuals has seen action in Korea, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf, Afghanistan and Iraq. These loyal members of the Armed Forces are military working dogs.“When the dogs skills were first utilized in a combat environment, a lot of them did not come home,” said Sgt. Charles Ritter, the kennel master and senior handler in the canine division of the Provost Marshals Office here. “At the time they were considered much more expendable, these days it is more of a partnership, there is a strong bond between a dog and its handler.”Fightertown has nine military working dogs and five handlers that train and work together at PMO. The dogs are usually selected in their first year of life, whether carefully selected from breeders worldwide or from the breeding program at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, called the puppy program. The puppies are then put into a dog training squadron also at Lackland, Ritter explained. By the time the dogs are between two and three years old they are considered trained and sent out to the fleet. Three breeds of dogs are trained: Dutch Shepherds, German Shepherds and Belgian Malinois. Handlers, on the other hand, are either selected straight out of Marine Combat Training, or Marines may put in a package to request the billet. “The basic school is approximately three-months long and the rest is pretty much on the job training,” said Pfc. Matthew Blackburn, a military working dog handler with PMO here. The dogs are used for two purposes: patrolling and drug and explosive detection. “You won’t have one dog with both skills,” Ritter said. “If you have a dog that gives you, the handler, a signal indicating that they found something, you really need to know the proper response necessary, whether it is to dig for drugs or back away from a bomb.”The dogs’ training is rotated by days, ranging from practicing aggressive takedowns to maneuvering an agility course involving window-shaped jumps, tunnels and A-framed obstacles.“The ability of training the dog to do what you want to it do is up to the handler,” said Cpl. Alan McGuire, a military working dog handler at PMO. “And the more dogs you work, the better a handler you are.”The dogs support the entire Tri-Command area, providing a multitude of services ranging from command authorized vehicle inspections, health and comfort inspections, educational demonstrations to give people an designed to inform people how the dogs are trained and what they do every day, according to Ritter.Air Station working dogs and their handlers frequently fill billets in Iraq. Sgt. Stephen Dojnia and his dog Benny, an explosives detection German Shepherd are currently at Combat Outpost Rawah, Iraq participating in night patrols, at times with reconnaissance Marines, and sweeping for explosives in camps and bases. Sgt. Scott Chirdon and his military working dog Bancuk, a Belgian Malinois, recently returned from Camp Al Asad, COP Hit and COP Rawah. While at COP Rawah, Chirdon and Bancuk found a weapons cache containing 188 Rocket Propelled Grenades: 36, 60mm mortar rounds: 12, 81mm mortar rounds and 91 artillery fuses, according to Chirdon.“There is an added sense of pride for what we do,” Ritter said. “We belong to an elite force in the Marine Corps. There are only around 150 military working dog handlers in this branch of the military.”Being a military working dog handler is a unique job that is ideal for those who enjoy working with a four-legged friend.“I love the bond you have with your dog,” McGuire said. “You actually get to do something that you love. You may be a military policeman and hate to stand at the gate, I have been there. If you like dogs, then you feel like you have the greatest job in the Marine Corps.”
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