Canine handlers build confidence in Phoenix Warrior course

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Paul R. Evans
  • U.S. Air Force Expeditionary Center
Having confidence in their abilities is a key ingredient for the success of any military working dog team, especially on deployments.

In the Air Force Phoenix Warrior Training Course at the U.S. Air Force Expeditionary Center on Fort Dix, N.J., two new military working dog, or MWD, handlers are "building a stronger sense of confidence" during their training here from Feb. 17 to March 6. The confidence, they say, to be better able to work with their MWDs on an upcoming deployment.

The students include Senior Airman Timothy Jones and his military working dog, Arris, from Tinker Air Force Base, Okla., and Senior Airman Jeremy Rice and military working dog, Banto, from Eglin AFB, Fla.

Both teams are attending Phoenix Warrior, which is taught by the center's 421st Combat Training Squadron. The 19-day pre-deployment training course teaches Air Force security forces Airmen 21 core tasks, plus an additional five for canine teams.

For MWD teams, the course provides exposure to different types of combat situations that normally aren't taught at the team's home station. In those five additional tasks they learn ahead of other students, they gain specialized knowledge in mounted patrol tactics, improvised explosive device recognition, advanced urban operations tactics, tactical communications and weapons drills.

Airman Jones said he became an MWD handler because he wanted to try something new. Tired of working the gates and the flightline, he said he yearned for more adventure. Now in training, Airman Jones and his explosive detection and patrol MWD, Arris, are about to deploy for the first time to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

"Despite having a few deployments under my belt, I'm unsure what to expect now as a MWD handler in the deployed environment," Airman Jones said.

Airman Rice is no stranger to deployments either as he's had prior experience with detainee operations and other missions in Iraq. As a new MWD handler, however, he said this will be his first deployment, and believes Phoenix Warrior has made him better prepared.

"This training is so much better than the training I've previously had," Airman Rice said. "The explosions, gunfire from different caliber weapons, smoke grenades and other training is great."

While Airman Rice said he's looking forward to his deployment, his Phoenix Warrior instructors are working to update the course after one recently returned from one. Phoenix Warrior canine handler instructor, Staff Sgt. Brennon Pierce, recently returned from Iraq with a new perspective on how to train Air Force canine handlers. Prior to his deployment, he attended his own course as a student.

"After my return, I got together with Staff Sgt. Luke Plemons, the course director, to revitalize the MWD portion of Phoenix Warrior with new tactics, techniques and procedures," Sergeant Pierce said.

The changes they made included adding more nighttime operations, exposure to a variety of weapons systems, live-fire and explosions with ground burst simulators.

"We've also incorporated the actual application of giving the dog fluids intravenously for first aid and urban tactics training," Sergeant Pierce said. "The MWD handlers and dogs also learn how to work within small groups, or fire teams, and around civilians in the urban environment."

Working in small groups is done so the dog gets comfortable with working around local civilians, other security forces members and Army Soldiers within close proximity, Sergeant Plemons said.

"It also gives the handler better security and control when operating in an urban environment while searching for explosives or narcotics," Sergeant Plemons said.

The canine track of the Phoenix Warrior course is wrapping up its second year of operations. Born from the need for additional pre-deployment for MWD teams, course founder Tech. Sgt. Jeffery Dean of the 421st CTS said after collecting information from those who deployed to the Middle East, the goal was to develop a realistic training course that focuses on the areas that military working dogs teams cannot get at their base.

"Our goal was to offer much-needed training to MWD teams who may encounter similar scenarios while deployed in support of the war," Sergeant Dean said.

Recent students of the course, Airmen Jones and Rice said the work of Sergeants Dean, Plemons and Pierce is paying off and will help them be ready and confident.

"This training has given me a lot more confidence," Airman Jones said.

"You just can't get this kind of training at your home base," Airman Rice added.