“BOOM! You and your dog just blew up, Sergeant. You both would be dead if this was Afghanistan and that was a real improvised explosive device,” declared the military working dog team evaluator.
Army Sergeant Noah Carpenter kicked at the dirt and shook his head in disbelief. He looked over at the 65 pound Belgian Malinois who was still digging at the explosive training aid. The dog had dirt and dust all over his paws and face. His tail was wagging with excitement. Noah looked at the other military working dog handlers who were shaking their heads at the two year old, squarely built dog. His temper flared.
The stress and pressure of certification can be overwhelming for a handler. Noah started to get light-headed as he stared down at the ground. He seethed with rage and embarrassment but took several deep breaths and knelt down. He was happy the dog had found the explosive, but he knew a dog that aggressed on explosives would get him and possibly many others killed in Afghanistan.
“Chuck, out. Come.”
Chuck didn’t move. He was locked in on the explosive. Noah called him several more times, but Chuck lay on the ground staring at the spot where the explosive was located. Noah knew the dog wasn’t going anywhere. He got up and did something he would never have done if they were in Afghanistan and the explosives were real. Blood broiling, he walked towards his dog and the explosive training aid.
He knelt down next to Chuck and grabbed the dog by the scruff of his neck. He pulled the dirty drooling jaw of Chuck level with his own. He felt Chuck’s wet hot tongue striking his cheek and his heart melted.
“Good boy, Chuck. Who’s my boy,” cooed Noah. He stroked Chuck’s head.
He knew being mad wasn’t the way to fix Chuck. Chuck was a young and inexperienced puppy who needed training.
“You get one more shot tomorrow, Sergeant. If your dog aggresses on the explosives again then you will fail certification,” declared the evaluator.
Noah grimaced, looked at Chuck, and then nodded to the evaluator.
“Roger, Sergeant. We’ll be ready,” he said.
Failing wasn’t an option for the eight-year Army veteran who had just won multiple awards at the United States Army Pacific Command Military Working dog competition with his former dog, Bo, a patrol narcotic detector dog. Noah was hand-selected by his supervisors for the important task of reigning in this stubborn patrol explosive detector dog that was trying to lick his face.
Failing certification meant he and Chuck didn’t meet the minimum standards for an explosive detection team. They wouldn’t be allowed to perform missions. What good were they to the Army if they couldn’t execute their mission? Noah wasn’t going to let that happen.
They spent the rest of the day running detection drill after drill. At first Chuck didn’t understand what he was doing wrong. He wanted to find these things buried in the ground to please his dad. He wanted to retrieve them for his dad. What was he doing wrong?
Noah and his fellow handlers continued to work with Chuck.
When you find the explosives, lie down on the ground.
When I call, you come to me.
You want your reward, Chuck? Then alert and recall for your handler correctly.
After hours of instruction Noah was less than confident that he and Chuck were ready for tomorrow. Chuck really was a stubborn dog. Once he locked on an explosive, there was no getting him off of it.
The next day, Noah watched nervously as Chuck covered the field with his magic nose. His search pattern was tight. His movements deliberate. Noah was confident that nothing would get past Chuck. But would Chuck try to dig it up again? Suddenly Chuck jerked back and lurched at the ground.
Noah’s heart started to beat quickly. He knew Chuck was on the explosive.
Chuck pawed the ground lightly and then lay down staring at the exact spot of the explosive. Noah let out a deep breath as he wiped the beads of sweat rolling down his cheeks. He looked over at the evaluator who was staring at him. Noah knew he was considering whether Chuck’s pawing at the ground was enough to warrant failure.
Chuck hesitated for thirty seconds and Noah called him one more time. Finally, Chuck bounded towards Noah, tail wagging. He was ready for his reward. Noah hugged him, patted him on the head and handed him his black Kong. Chuck loves his black Kong.
As Chuck chewed on his Kong, Noah stared at anticipation at the evaluator. Were they a “go” or did they fail? The evaluator, himself a seasoned dog handler, surveyed the dog and looked back at Noah. He finally nodded and said, “OK. But you have some work to do as a team, Sergeant. You need to fix that dog’s recall and stop him from aggressing on the explosives.”
Noah pumped his fist with excitement. He rolled Chuck on his back and rubbed his belly. He would work day and night with Chuck to get him right. They had time since they weren’t on any scheduled deployment in the near future.
Noah did work with Chuck as much as he could and they were starting to improve as a team and then a month later the perfect storm hit.
They were shipped to the National Training Center in California to train deploying units on how to employ military working dogs into their operations. The National Training Center had no odors or hard training aids to train Chuck. Noah went nearly a month without the proper tools to maintain and improve Chuck’s proficiency.
It got worse. The dog team scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan failed certification. That meant the failed team couldn’t fill their deployment requirement and someone in the unit must. The troops engaged with the enemy needed those paws on the ground to save lives. Noah’s superiors looked to him and Chuck.
Within two weeks Noah found himself on an airplane destined for Afghanistan. As they travelled across the world Noah had no idea if Chuck had regressed back to his stubborn hard-headed self. He wasn’t sure if Chuck would be effective or get them all blown up. To make matters worse, they were heading to Afghanistan to join the Green Berets!
Is Chuck ready for this?
Can Noah turn Chuck around?
Will Chuck earn his green beret?
Stay tuned for tales from Afghanistan.
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