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Military Working Dogs Detachment activates

November 6, 2012

By Sgt. Mark Miranda

JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. -- Nouschka, a black Labrador retriever, was digging up clumps of dirt, to the dismay of her handler, Sgt. David Varkett.

"You need to stop that. You're just a hot mess, aren't you?" Varkett scolded, brushing bits of dry grass off his partner, who is trained to sniff out explosive materials. With rehearsals finished, it was time for the actual ceremony, and Nouschka sat obediently waiting with Varkett between a humvee and a formation of Soldiers.

The 95th Military Police Detachment, 504th MP Battalion, was activated Nov. 2, here.

Sgt. 1st Class Nathaniel Burney was appointed as its detachment sergeant during a ceremony presided over by Lt. Col. Carl Parsons, commander, 504th MP Bn.

"With today's activation, we recognize the value and importance of our military working dogs, their handlers, and the true team that they make," Parsons said. "Not only are they important on the battlefield, but here in garrison, they are charged to provide for the safety and security to the installation to the community where we all reside and work."

The activation marks a new beginning for the 95th MP detachment at JBLM. Its legacy began in 1953 until 1965 at Fort Belvoir, and continued at Fort Lewis from 1967 to 1972.

"Until recently, we fell under the 51st MP detachment," said Staff Sgt. Jovan Harris, operations noncommissioned officer. "The 95th is strictly military working dogs. We'll be a post asset, as well as having deployable dog teams to serve on route clearance or base security."

"Each military working dog and a handler is one team. We search buildings, roadways and vehicles," said Harris, a native of Tacoma, Wash.

Harris said military policemen trained as dog handlers have an additional skill identifier (ASI), but an official military occupational specialty designation may be coming to identify these Soldiers as a separate MOS, as 31K.

"The dog handlers are taught to use dogs to conduct patrol, detect explosives and narcotics. They might work with dogs that are taught no aggression, no patrol work, strictly explosive detection," Harris said.

"My type of ASI is called a Zulu 6 -- which is patrol and narcotics or explosives detection," said Spc. Tony Clark, a native of Ocala, Fla. "We also have the patrol side where we do 'bite work' and we can train the dogs to sniff out human scent. That was about a four-month school."

Soldiers learn to handle military working dogs at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. The dogs are trained to sniff out either explosives or narcotics, specializing in one, not both.

Clark, 24, has been a Soldier for five years. He has worked as a dog handler for the last two.
"My current dog is a patrol and narcotics detection dog named 'Ray,' and I've worked with him for 16 months," Clark said.

Clark, who enlisted to be a dog handler, is fully dedicated to his job.

"I like being able to work with a dog, it's been a passion of mine since I was a boy. I originally joined the military to get into this career field," Clark said.

He recalled his experiences, being deployed as a dog and handler team.

"It was different from a line unit, I deployed as a single augmentee with just me and a dog, going through that whole process," Clark said. "Always having to work with your dog and the different obstacles you go through because you have that dog - it was interesting. You have that asset, and people tend to treat you well."

Military Working Dogs have been a part of U.S. Military history since as early as 1942. The Quartermaster Corp ran the Army's then called "K-9 Corps" which was another named use for the War Dog Program.

The first official use of dogs for military purpose in the U.S. were Pit Bull Terriers used during the Civil War to protect, send messages and as mascots in American World War I posters.

Military working Dogs have been trained in many different roles throughout history to include attack, scouts, messenger, medical aid, sled dogs, and pack dogs to name a few.

"We're called upon to do some rigorous things. It's great to think you're that person who's able to help a unit out, to be that enabler, that it could mean life or death. And that is the part that makes me passionate about what I do," Clark said.

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