HOLLOMAN AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. – The relentless sun pierced the yellow sand and rows of small run-down buildings. An Airmen is pulled through one of the green door frames into an empty room by his panting K-9 partner. Their eyes are drawn to a furry, lifeless figure in the corner.
“It looks like your dog fell and injured his leg, what needs to be done now?” asked a veterinary technician.
The Airmen dropped his backpack full of medical supplies and sprang into action, taking out a wooden splint and cloth to provide care. The lifeless figure in need of assistance was a Jerry K-9 CPR manikin, used for practicing first aid techniques on a dog.
The 49th Security Forces Squadron Military Working dog trainers performed this handler lane training with U.S. Army veterinarian technicians from Fort Bliss, Texas. They simulated medically assisting their dogs in multiple scenarios that can take place in a deployed environment.
This training is done approximately twice a year to keep both the handlers and veterinarians sharp on their skills.
Members from the Holloman Veterinary Treatment Facility also conduct quarterly medical training with the MWD handlers. This portion of the training mainly consists of Powerpoint presentations instead of exercises.
“What we did was a dual training for them where they were practicing their detection, searching areas and sniffing bombs,” said U.S. Army Spc. Madison Jenkins, VTF noncommissioned officer in charge. “Then we would add emergency scenarios for the handlers, which required providing medical care for their dog.”
The mock deployment area allows the handlers and dogs to run through scenarios that could happen downrange, such as a broken leg or a spider bite, and simulate providing medical assistance to the dog while maintaining combat readiness in case of a threat.
Staff Sgt. Dennis Kim, 49 SFS MWD trainer, added that the stress handlers undergo during the exercises, are sensed by the dogs as well; and it is good to expose both to these situations in preparation for real deployments.
Although the MWD teams are emphasized during the training, the veterinarians gain experience as well.
According to Jenkins the training is invaluable for newly qualified veterinarians, and although deployments are very rare in the career field, they are not impossible.
“It’s important that they are ready in the event that they do deploy with the dog, or if an emergency occurs with a dog in-garrison,” said Jenkins. “It’s also helpful to learn and then teach somebody, it kind of solidifies it a little bit more for them.”
Since the veterinarians rarely deploy with MWD’s, handlers will take their dog to a human medic in the event of an emergency downrange. Even though these medics receive training, it is important for the handlers to be knowledgeable as well.
Jenkins stressed that the first few moments of a crisis before visiting a medic can be the difference between life and death for the dog, and with all the responsibilities of being a MWD handler and police officer, the additional knowledge of medical procedures can be difficult.
“It’s a lot to know for sure,” said Jenkins. “But it’s unfortunately just part of being a handler, they have taken on the responsibility of this very expensive living equipment. There are dogs deploying from here on a regularly basis, and it’s a constant cycle. So it is important that they are prepared.”