The multi-mission Maritime Security Response Team and Maritime Safety and Security Teams of the U.S. Coast Guard provide port safety, security and law enforcement capabilities to America’s ports. Partnerships are important in achieving their mission, and one of these partnerships is with man’s best friend.
Canine explosive detection teams are part of the MSRT and MSST and perform explosive detection operations in and around our nation’s ports and aboard vessels. The canine explosive detection teams, capable of operating in a wide range of environments, secure key maritime infrastructure in cities across America and work alongside local law enforcement agencies in security sweeps for large-scale events.
The canines, just like their handlers, must be prepared for every situation they will encounter in their mission and train in a variety of scenarios. In the below story you will get a glimpse of that training as you follow Sirius, Evy and their handlers as they train from both aboard a vessel and a helicopter.
Written by Petty Officer 2nd Class Pamela J. Boehland.
Sirius stood on the bow of the 47-foot Motor Lifeboat with her tail tucked between her legs and quaking in her custom-made harness. Her soft, velvety ears were pinned back and she looked up at canine handler Petty Officer 2nd Class Chris Hartman as he stroked her head and murmured reassurances to her. As Sirius struggled to find her sea legs, Hartman clipped a line to the black Labrador’s harness. Her shaking legs were lifted from the aluminum deck of the lifeboat, and she was hoisted up the broad side of the haze-grey WWII liberty ship, the Jeremiah O’Brien, which was moored at Pier 45 in San Francisco.
The hoist up the O’Brien is part of the dogs’ ongoing training program designed to expose them to all of the fields they could be potentially called to serve in. They are both bomb-sniffing dogs, and typically search for explosive material on ferries and in warehouses and port facilities. Their training, however, sometimes requires them to be transported to assets that they are not naturally comfortable with, such as airplanes or moving boats.
“The loud noises and vibrations of the boats scare the dogs, and we have to redirect their attention and prepare them, so if that call does come in, they are ready,” said Hartman.
Sirius’ usual handler, Petty Officer 1st Class Joe Tokarsky, was at the top of the ship, and he pulled her, hand-over-hand, up the 35-foot side. Additionally, she had another safety line attached to her, handled by Petty Officer 2nd Class Cory Sumner in case Tokarsky lost control. Once she was over the side and on deck, she got right to the job she was trained to do, locate explosives.
She searched the ship until she found the explosive-type scent she was looking for, went still and was rewarded with playtime with her friend and handler, Tokarsky.
After Sirius, it was Evy’s turn to be hoisted. The motor lifeboat nosed up to the O’Brien and Hartman brought the four-year old Belgian Malinois on deck.
Handlers are taught how to safely hoist dogs as part of their initial training at the Customs and Border Protection K-9 school in Front Royal, Va., and field exercises like this help refresh their initial training. It is an important part of acclimating the dogs to at sea searches.
Evy and Sirius, like all members of the Coast Guard, train regularly to stay proficient. Their handlers constantly challenge them locate various explosive scents because the dogs are vital to finding and stopping bombs.
“The dogs love to work,” said Hartman. “When they take a few weeks off for rest, they are anxious and restless to get back to it.”
Hartman has been working with Evy for two years. Both handlers not only work with the dogs but also take them home and care for them.
“Evy is my partner,” said Hartman. “Even our days off are spent together. We have developed a real bond. She’s a part of the family.”
Hartman, Tokarsky, Evy and Sirius are an important part of the Maritime Safety and Security Team San Francisco, a team dedicated to stopping hazards at sea. Together, they search ships for threats, safeguard ferries, secure ports and protect our waterways. America’s waterfront is safer because Evy and Sirius are sniffing out dangers. They provide an extra line of security from bombs and explosives and do something that no human or robot can.