CAMP BONDSTEEL, Kosovo (April 10, 2014) – Spc. Katie Lane strapped herself onto the hoist next to a simulated casualty that would be lifted skyward over 50 feet in the air to a hovering helicopter. Fitted with a special pair of goggles and a muzzle, the four-legged “casualty” shook its tail in nervous excitement.
It would be Lane’s first time accompanying her military working dog, Beny, on a hoist mission; the same type mission that could be needed to evacuate Beny from the battlefield, if he were ever injured.
Soldiers with Multinational Battle Group-East completed a week-long MedEvac training April 2, at Camp Bondsteel. The Soldiers comprised of elements of Task Force Medical and MNBG-E’s Southern Command Post, conducted the training to familiarize the dog handlers and their working dogs from the camp’s military police platoon with the intricate process for hoisting a dog to safety.
“It was kind of an interesting thing to do together; to see how [Beny] would do with all of this training and being around all this noise,” said Lane, a 26-year-old native of Franklin, Va. “He’s kind of skittish, but he did very well. He just kind of hung there and was along for the ride.”
The training event started with cold-load training, or bringing the dogs to a grounded helicopter without its rotor blades spinning. There, the teams became familiar with the aircraft and its interior. Then under hot-load training, the dog teams repeated the process, but with the rotor blades spinning, allowing the dogs to experience the rotors in action. Finally, with the helicopter still grounded, the dogs and their handlers practiced using the hoist system while being raised about three feet.
The culminating event was the airborne hoist training with MedEvac aviators from the 2nd Battalion, 135th Aviation Regiment, Louisiana National Guard. On Camp Bondsteel, Lane and Staff Sgt. Josh Rose, along with their dogs, Beny and Bumper respectively, were each secured onto a rescue hoist below a hovering UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter. Rising more than 50 feet into the air, each dog team experienced an actual rescue hoist operation.
The training proved especially invaluable for Lane, who said that a crisis situation requires calmness and straight-thinking by the dog handlers and their dogs.
“I know in crazy situations, you’re not really thinking straight, so if I hadn’t had any of this training, I would be kind of lost. I wouldn’t know what to do, I’d just be kind of standing there confused,” said Lane, a military dog handler with the 100th Military Working Dog Detachment at Miesau, Germany. “I’m brand new to the program, so it’s given me a lot of information on what to do in a situation where something does happen to the dog and we have to MedEvac him out.”
Military working dogs have an important job at Camp Bondsteel, serving in a force protection role for the camp’s residents, workplaces and equipment yards. They complete daily perimeter and critical infrastructure checks, search incoming service trucks and conduct vigilance patrols. The dogs and their handlers are in a demanding position.
“On average, (the teams are) getting well over 200 hours of utilization a month,” said Rose, a military dog handler with the 131st Military Working Dog Detachment, and native of Chesapeake, Va.
The dogs’ intense workload means their possibility of getting injured on the job remains high.
An injured animal has unpredictable behavior, even towards those who may be saving its life, said Capt. Nathan Carlton, the camp’s only military veterinarian and officer-in-charge of the MedEvac training.
“Given that the military working dogs in Kosovo have a dangerous mission, I thought there was a chance one of them could be injured in the line of duty,” the native of Tucson, Ariz., added. “If that happens, there will be a lot of people handling the animal during evacuation.”
Carlton explained that by transporting an injured animal in assets designed for people by MedEvac personnel trained to save human lives, there were several concerns that needed to be addressed before the training.
Wounded dogs are more prone to bite than normal due to fear and pain, Carlton explained. He said that German Shepherds can produce 700 pounds per square inch in bite force. Additionally, helicopters are often a new and frightening encounter for dogs.
“Aeromedical evacuation is an extremely intense sensory experience for [military working dogs]. There is a lot of loud noise, new smells, wind blowing debris, and a big, black helicopter the dog must enter,” Carlton said. “All that can overwhelm a dog, making it react unpredictably. We introduced the dogs to gradually increasing levels of sensory perception to make sure they are acclimated to the procedure.”
Carlton also taught a Canine Combat Life Saver class, an advanced-level first aid class on dog anatomy and lifesaving procedures. Military dog handlers must be certified on over 30 first-aid tasks specific to canines. Using mannequin dogs, the handlers were taught intubation, IVs, bandaging, and even CPR.
“We do quarterly training with the vet and there are 34 tasks that we’re required to know about and to perform on a [military working dog],” said Rose. “A lot of it’s the same as helping an injured human; anything from treating shock to gunshot wounds.”
In an emergency, the handler, often the individual with the most animal handling training, can provide much-needed restraint and canine first-aid knowledge to the medical crew. Rose said on his first deployment to Iraq, his military working dog was evacuated from theater due to a sudden illness, and he and the dog were back in Germany for further medical treatment within eight hours.