Time was against Sgt. Ryan McKenzie and his canine partner, Shadow. As part of training, Palmer Theater received a bomb threat, and they needed to search for explosives.
Hoping it would be a hoax, McKenzie’s worst fears were confirmed when Shadow found an explosive device behind the stage.
It was a training scenario McKenzie, a military working dog handler with the 513th Military Police Detachment, and Shadow and other dog teams would have to complete to pass their annual certification.
“Today is the first day of certification and we are doing a theater sweep for explosives detection,” said Sgt. 1st Class Thomas Macagg, the military working dog plans noncommissioned officer for Forces Command Headquarters. “This will simulate a VIP venue area-type sweep.”
The certification tests the dog teams’ proficiency in patrol and detection work. To pass, the teams have to complete a series of tasks: an odor recognition test, a demonstration that the dogs can respond and identify particular odors; obedience, an evaluation of the handler’s ability to control the dog off leash while going through an obstacle course; response to gun fire, an assessment to see if the dogs show any signs of fear around gunfire; and building and road searches, which comprise searching for personnel or explosives.
“The purpose of the certification is to establish legal credibility,” Macagg said. “This ensures that these dog teams have met the baseline so they are ready when called to do law enforcement, secret service missions and deployments.”
Sgt. 1st Class Randall Blanchard, the kennel master for the 226th Military Working Dog Detachment, the teams have the ability to support missions worldwide and every chain of command at Fort Hood.
“Military working dog teams are a force multiplier,” Blanchard said. “A dog’s odor detection capability allows us to search areas faster and provide better support to the communities in a law enforcement and security capacity.”
In a deployed capacity, the dog teams can do anything from help provide camp security to going conducting roadway sweeps, said Master Sgt. Richard Brentson, the military working dog liaison for the 89th Military Police Brigade.
“The dog teams perform similar missions here on Fort Hood,” Brentson said. “If there is any type of bomb threat these dog teams will go out and conduct a sweep of the threat areas. Even in normal circumstances, the dog teams can go out to the gates and conduct random anti-terrorism operations by randomly selecting vehicles that come through.”
“The dogs also provide a psychological deterrent to anyone on the outside who may be looking in if they see the dog team at the gate,” Brentson said. “They may be less likely to visit the gate if they are trying to do harm on the installation.”
In the past, regular MPs were selected to be dog handlers, but starting in October, military working dog handlers will become a military occupational specialty, Blanchard said. This will be beneficial to the MWD handlers.
“The benefit of having a dog handler MOS is that we will have longevity in the dog program,” Blanchard said.
“Before, if you were an E-6 in the dog handler program who wanted to get promoted, you had to leave the dog program. Now, we will ... not lose them to career progression.”