MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. --
The desert sand of Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, California, is familiar ground for the Marines participating in Exercise Steel Knight, but there’s a different kind of ‘devil dog’ running through the vast Mojave.
The 1st Law Enforcement Battalion detachment with I Marine Expeditionary Force took their place alongside their military working dogs in Steel Knight to further develop skills required to integrate with their ground combat counterparts. Steel Knight is a division-led, scenario-based exercise to strengthen the warfighting abilities of the full-scalable, ground combat element from Dec. 3-13, 2015.
Corporal Jared Royce, a military working dog handler with 1st Law Enforcement Bn., I MEF, worked alongside his assigned dog, Hugo, to serve as a valued asset of the warfighting team. Hugo is trained in both explosive detection and aggression and is one of many dogs that served alongside the Marines of the 1st Marine Division.
The dog’s sense of smell allows him to pick up traces of munitions the enemy may be hiding in a house or vehicle, 1st Lt. Devin McAtee said, the military police officer in-charge with the battalion. The dogs can also search for improvised explosive devices during patrols and provide an extra element of safety for Marines moving through an area during operations.
Despite being well-versed in their craft, Hugo and Royce were operating in the open desert much different than the vegetated, hilly terrain of Camp Pendleton. This provided an additional element of complexity and realism to the training.
“Coming out here to the desert, it’s a little bit different than Pendleton … I’ve been with Hugo for about a month,” Royce explained. “While we’re out here, I’d like to work with his off-leash capabilities like his previous handler had.”
Operating without a leash is a significant step in trust between the handler and dog. This allows the Marine to send the dog a short distance away to search or track an objective, like a person or hidden cache.
“While we’re out here if anybody gets too close or get near the perimeter, he’ll let me know,” the Illiopolis, Ill. native added. “If that person wants to get hostile, I can send the dog.”
Taking on all the tasks of a handler and a dog can be taxing for the team as the days wear on.
“We don’t have any kennels for the dogs so we have to be with the dogs 24/7,” Royce stated. “We have to find a happy medium for the working hours…so the dog isn’t constantly working.”
Steel Knight exposed the handlers to other assets they may not normally operate with.
“This exercise we get to come out here and work with the infantry and their vehicles, who we normally don’t get to see,” Royce said.
However, this type of exposure benefits all parties due to the increased level of familiarity. The need for military working dogs and the asset they bring the table is in high demand.
“I’m looking for the Marines to have a better understanding of the capabilities and working relationship,” McAtee, the Poolesville, Maryland native added. “Many times we go out and we don’t have the working dogs attached to us, dogs are a pretty hot commodity right now”
Working with units to assist in operations for the duration of Steel Knight sets the military working dog handlers up for continued success.
“Getting the dogs out there and regularly working with them will help us in the future,” McAtee said.
“They get to go out to the field quite a bit but the infantry Marines aren’t used to working with the dogs so this gives them a chance for them to become familiar with them and the capacity we employ them in.”
With a greater understanding and means to execute the mission, Marines and their four-legged counterparts truly gain a leg-up for what is yet to come.