Note: This is Part II of this series. If you haven’t read Part I you might want to read that post first.
Spectacular brown jagged mountains surrounded the Konduz Airfield in northern Afghanistan, reminiscent of Sergeant Noah Carpenter’s home in Arizona. But Noah couldn’t focus on the spectacular scenery. His focus was squarely on the fact that he was standing on a flight line alone, with his Military Working Dog Chuck faithfully by his side.
“What the hell should I do now?” thought Noah?
He looked down at his two duffle bags, rucksack, ferry kennel and a “tough box” full of Chuck’s gear and supplied and shook his head in disbelief. There was no way he could “hump” all that gear anywhere.
“Crap!” he said under his breath.
The soldiers that had landed with him at the remote camp were already picked up by their units. When he spoke, a group of Afghan soldiers eyed him curiously. They talked amongst themselves, pointed at Noah and Chuck and nodded. Noah tensed and the hair on Chuck’s back rose as he eyed the AK-47 bearing, Afghan army soldiers.
“Are they friend or foe?” Noah thought. “Can they be trusted? Who the hell is supposed to pick me up? How the hell did I get into the situation?
30 days earlier Noah had arrived at the major hub for United States Forces in Afghanistan, Bagram Airbase. He knew he was arriving in a combat zone with an inexperienced, “green” dog. He and Chuck had barely passed explosive detection certification back in Hawaii and now they would be expected to spend time at Bagram to train on explosives commonly found in Afghanistan before being sent out to a unit. He knew that those few weeks would be spent imprinting his stubborn knucklehead of a dog Chuck on homemade explosives (HME) such as ammonium nitrate, rocket propelled grenades, land mines and other explosives not available to him for training back in Hawaii. These explosives are key components of the Taliban’s effective improvised explosive device (IED) tactic.
“How is your dog on odor, Sergeant,” asked Staff Sergeant Darrel Wade, the Combined Joint Special Operation Forces kennel master.
“He is excellent. He can find anything,” Noah said confidently.
“Good, how about your dog’s OB?” the Staff Sergeant asked, using the shorthand for “obedience.”
Noah hesitated and admitted with reluctance, “He needs some work, Sergeant.”
He seemed to be saying, “Stop talking about me, Dad. I’m right here.”
For two weeks Noah and Chuck trained on the explosive odors common to Afghanistan. Chuck was a natural at picking the scents up and Noah was excited. He started to wonder if his dog could be turning into “Chuck, the Natural” and not “Chuck, the Stubborn Puppy”?
“Seek,” Noah directed.
Chuck didn’t hesitate as he stretched the extendable 26-foot leash connected to Noah’s body armor by a black metal carabineer. His tail wagged, nose remained low and eyes focused. Chuck was a natural. Or was he?
Noah saw Chuck jerk his body back at a spot in the ground that appeared to have darker dirt that for a seasoned dog handler is a telltale sign that the dirt was recently disrupted. Chuck sat and then plopped his mahogany body on the ground focusing on the dark spot of dirt with his almond shaped brown eyes.
“Come,” Noah commanded. Chuck edged closer to the dark dirt spot.
“Come,” Noah demanded. Chuck began pawing at the dirt. His nose was buried in an instant.
“Crap,” thought Noah as he ran up and pulled the dog off of the explosives. He didn’t want Chuck chewing on a live land mine. Chuck wagged his tail happily and rubbed his black muzzle against Noah’s leg.
He seemed to be saying, “I did good, Dad. Look, I found it. Can I have some love now? How about tossing me that Kong, pal?”
Noah sighed and shook his head at the hardheaded Belgian Malinois.
“The damn dog does whatever he wants out there. His detection skills are better than any dog I’ve ever had, but I can’t control him,” he told Wade. He brushed the grainy sand from Chuck’s nose.
“Carpenter, I think I know what’s wrong. Let’s go back to the kennels. I want you to watch a video,” said Staff Sergeant Wade.
As Noah watched the video made by the renowned Doctor Hilliard from the Department of Defense Canine School at Lackland Airbase the light bulb went off in Noah’s head. Everything he had learned at canine school seven years earlier had been replaced. Instead of compulsion training, dogs were coming out of Lackland being trained in Clear Signal Training.
“So you mean I’ve been speaking Spanish to him and Chuck only knows French?” Noah asked.
Staff Sergeant Wade nodded, “Yep.”
The word about the new training technique hadn’t made it to his kennel back in Hawaii, so Noah had been trying to control Noah with commands and signals that Chuck wasn’t trained on. Chuck wasn’t a stubborn knucklehead!
With the help of Staff Sergeant Wade, Noah received a crash course on Clear Signal Training. After that and hundreds of hours of training with Chuck, Noah and his dog smoked validation and were shipped to Konduz.
Newly anointed, Chuck the Natural began to growl menacingly as several Afghan soldiers stepped toward the pair on the Konduz Airfield tarmac. Noah slid a hand onto the pistol grip of his M4 Carbine rifle and put his thumb onto the safety mechanism.
The sun had disappeared over the scorched brown mountains 30 minutes prior and Noah knew it would be dark soon.
He glanced down at the ammunition pouches strapped to vest. His magazines were each loaded with 30 rounds of 5.56 Millimeter ammunition. His 9 Millimeter Beretta was strapped to his chest. There were about twenty Afghans against him and Chuck.
Should he unleash Chuck?
Should he pull out another magazine?
Should he flee or fight?
His breathing got heavy; his heart was pounding and his head spinning. It was decision time for Sergeant Noah Carpenter.
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