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Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton

"The West Coast's Premier Expeditionary Training Base"

Sharing skills: MARSOC canine handlers host subject matter expert exchange

By Lance Cpl. Andrew Cortez | Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton | July 31, 2019


Aggressive waves crash along the shore as service members swim to land with their trusted canine partner. After a quick pause to check their gear, both the handler and the canine move up the beach toward an urban area. A burst of light from a flash bang signals the handler to release his dog, sending his partner after a role player that just emerged from one of the buildings. After a short struggle, the dog takes the role player down and holds them their until his handler can apprehend the enemy.

That was the kind of training dog handlers from different units and military services participated in during the U.S. Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command Multipurpose Canine Subject Matter Expert Exchange, July 15-26, on Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton.

The idea for the exchange originated five years ago from Christian Carthen and Dustin Winn, both lead instructors for MARSOC Canine West.

“The purpose of this training was to bring units together from different places to enhance their capabilities and bring the skills they learned back to their units,” said Winn.

Dog handlers from various units worked alongside multipurpose dogs, military working dogs and dual-purpose dogs through different events over a course of two weeks. The dog teams went through urban patrols, helocasting and live firing ranges. “Camp Pendleton offers a lot of training areas that look very similar to what the dog handlers will see when they operate in a unit” Winn said.

The training events were designed to get progressively more challenging. Each event built off the events from previous days.

“Last week was kind of a crawl, walk, run method, and this week was our culminating event, ” said U.S. Marine Staff Sgt. Eduardo Bonilla, platoon sergeant, working dog platoon, 1st Law Enforcement Battalion, 1st Marine Division. “We did some explosive detection, amphibious, and air to ground training.”

On the last two days the SMEE, the training moved into the run stage. The dog teams went out to Red Beach to practice disembarking off Combat Rubber Raiding Craft and swimming to shore. Once the teams came ashore, they made their way to an explosive detection exercise. The final part of the training emphasized urban operations, where the dogs would charge and subdue a role player on command in an urban environment.

For most of the participants, the training they conducted as part of the SMEE is something they don’t normally get to experience.

“This makes my Marines better by exposing them to things that we don’t have access to at 1st Law Enforcement Battalion, where MARSOC Marines do.” Bonilla said.

Now that the event is over, the handlers are returning to their units with more knowledge and experience, and a better understanding of other organizations’ tactics and techniques.

“It's been proven that dogs save lives with their explosive detection capabilities,” said Winn. “With all the training, we put a better dog with a team to save as many lives as possible.”