Top Navy Dog Handlers Share Best Practices with Uruguayan Peacekeepers

Story Number: NNS101201-02Release Date: 12/1/2010 5:51:00 AM
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By Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class (SW) Peter D. Lawlor, Maritime Civil Affairs Security Training Command Public Affairs

MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay (NNS) -- A Maritime Civil Affairs and Security Training Command (MCAST) team of Military Working Dog (MWD) handlers taught mixed groups of Uruguayan military and emergency services personnel various combinations of basic dog obedience, scent detection, aggression training and patrol techniques in November.

The courses were taught from Nov. 1 through Nov. 23 by a specially assembled mobile training team (MTT) of MWD handlers that were chosen for the Uruguay training mission by MCAST for their level of knowledge, experience and different backgrounds.

The lead MWD trainer, Senior Chief Master-At-Arms (AW) Victor Solenberger, the U.S. Fleet Forces Command Fleet Kennel Master, said MWD handlers from Lackland Air Force Base's 341st Training Squad MWD Training Center were the last group of U.S. MWD handlers to train Uruguayan military dog handlers.

"All U.S. military working dog trainers have to get certified at Lackland," Solenberger said. "The Uruguayans basically received the same training as our guys. That was back in 2005 though. Between personnel turnaround and people getting deployed only a few of the Uruguayan handlers who received that training are still here."

Solenberger said only Uruguayan army dog handlers received training when the Lackland trainers came in 2005. "This time we're teaching several different groups of dog handlers and are tailoring our lessons for their needs," Solenberger said.

The Navy MWD handlers taught dog-handling courses to members of the Uruguayan army, air force, navy, coast guard, and police. Like the Uruguayans in their class, the Navy MWD trainers came from different units too, but were brought together through MCAST to provide the Uruguayans with the best training possible.

Master-At-Arms 1st Class Jonathan Upton, a MWD handler from Jacksonville, Ala. attached to Commander Navy Region Southwest Deployable Kennels, was part of the training team. As a former instructor at Lackland, Upton said he hopes to build the same level of respect in the Uruguayan MWD program that he experienced in Lackland.

"What we like to do is train the trainer," Upton said. "We take the handler, teach them the basic concepts, so they in turn can teach it to the dogs as well as the other handlers and they can pass their knowledge on."

Upton's reference to "training the trainers" is MCAST's mantra. The phrase is a cornerstone of MCAST's mission to foster international relationships through training partnerships that better enable countries to be more self-sufficient and as a result more stable.

The Uruguay National Naval Prefecture Division of Investigations and Narcotics Traffic (DIVIN) Capt. Eduardo Ledesma said he relies heavily on partner nations for training due to limited available resources for the military.

"This training is very important to us," Ledesma said. "We need people with your (the Navy's) level of experience, so they can point out how we can improve."

Ledesma said the Uruguayans established their detection dog program in the 1980s with help from the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agency. Ledesma said Uruguay still works closely with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Department of Defense.

Ledsma said past training and current joint operations between Uruguay, the U.S. and other partner nations helped result in a few major narcotics trafficking arrests. One drug bust in October 2009 took 2,174 kilograms of cocaine off the streets as well as nearly $1 billion in goods from the ring of smugglers that put a total of 22 drug dealers behind bars.

The Army Section Chief at the Office for Defense Cooperation at the U.S. Embassy in Montevideo, Uruguay, Lt. Col. Marc Saphir, is in charge of organizing U.S. military training in Uruguay and he said joint training opportunities always have added value.

Saphir said, "I believe the main reason why we're training together is because interoperability is very important."

Saphir said not only is interoperability among nations important, but also equally important is interoperability among a nation's own forces and resources.

Solenberger agreed and said he recommended the various Uruguayan military and emergency service groups should try to do more interagency training among themselves so they can share resources, knowledge and keep each other tactically sharp.

Saphir said in addition to applying the dog handler training locally and uniformly across all of the various agencies who use dogs to counter drug trafficking, control large crowds, or find explosives, the Uruguayan army and even the police could put the training to use abroad.

"The Uruguayans do a lot of peacekeeping missions," Saphir said. "Per capita, they're the largest contingent of peacekeepers in the world."

Coordinating a training mission with so many different agencies and resources involved is no easy task Saphir said, but added that all the phone calls, paperwork, planning, and meetings are worth it when it all comes together.

"This training is a good example of interoperability at the highest levels of government," Saphir said. "We had U.S. Department of State and U.S. Department of Defense agencies working together with Uruguayan Ministry of Interior and Uruguayan Department of Defense agencies to make this training happen."

The main Department of Defense component behind the planning and coordination of the training in Uruguay was MCAST. MCAST sought out MWD subject matter experts from the fleet for the Uruguay training mission and made all of the unit level contacts and coordination.

Lt. Tim Teti, an EOD officer and Security Force Assistance (SFA) MTT leader with MCAST, hand selected the MWD handlers who taught in Uruguay.

"We brought in trainers from their subject matter expertise areas since we don't house all of those professionals at the MCAST Command," Teti said. "That's part of MCAST's charter-to be able to reach out into the fleet and draw that expertise out when we conduct these types of missions."

SFA detachments from the MCAST command collaborate with foreign militaries in support of security cooperation and foreign internal defense missions. The cooperative engagements include topics such as small boat operations and tactics, maritime combat operations, weapons handling, anti-terrorism and force protection, maintenance and construction, and officer and non-commissioned officer professional development and leadership. This training is one of many exchanges planned in the coming years between MCAST and the U.S. Navy's strategic partners in Uruguay.

For more information on the MCAST command, visit or

For more news from Maritime Civil Affairs and Security Training Command, visit

Chief Master-at-Arms Nick Estrada, left, a U.S. Navy military working dog handler from Orange, Calif.,
Official U.S. Navy file photo.
December 1, 2010
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