Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C. --
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Seymour Johnson hosted working dogs and their handlers from across North Carolina for the first-ever East Coast Iron Dog Competition Oct. 25.
The competition consisted of a narcotics and an explosive detection course, a high-risk patrol scenario including tactical movements, the hardest hitting dog contest, and a 2-mile team endurance challenge with a veterinarian questionnaire for the handler.
U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Austin Hoke, 2nd Law Enforcement Battalion dog handler, said he was excited to take part in his first competition.
“It’s great to see the K-9 community come together for such an event,” Hoke said. “There are so many ways to train dogs because they have different personalities, and coming together like this, we have a chance to share tips and tricks.”
Hoke and his specialized search dog, Ace, came from Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, with four other handlers and their dogs.
Terry Williams, Stantonsburg Police Department canine officer, and Aaron, police working dog, came from Stantonsburg, North Carolina, to compete.
“We were excited when we received an invitation to the event,” Williams said. “There’s great comradery here between the different branches and us as civilians. My chief and I are having a blast talking with others and trading knowledge.”
When Williams took Aaron out of his kennel, Williams explained that Aaron is a rather unique working dog.
“Aaron is about 10 years old, but he can still get the job done,” Williams said. “A lot of people are surprised he still works and how well he performs.”
Aaron performed well enough to earn 2nd place in the narcotics detection portion of the competition.
During the narcotics and explosive detection contest, the dogs were sent out with their handlers, one-by-one, to find the substances.
After searching for either narcotics or explosive material, the teams went to the shoot-house for the high-risk patrol scenario with tactical movements.
A team started at the far end of course and traded simulated gunfire with a suspect. While moving up safely from one spot to another, the dogs remained calm and moved with their handler.
After reaching a certain point, the suspect went inside of the shoot-house and the team followed while performing their procedures and protocol. In the end, the violent suspect was taken down by the dog and apprehended after.
U.S. Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Gary Elbrecht, Special Operations Command multi-purpose canine (MPC) enlisted master trainer, helped act as the suspect and wore the bite suit.
“There’s a right way and a wrong way for a dog to take someone down,” Elbrecht said. “As they’re biting me, I put the dogs under pressure to see how they react. A well-trained dog will continue to hold onto me even if I’m trying to push him off and won’t let go until his handler tells him to.”
The competition continued with the hardest-hitting challenge.
A handler held onto their dog until the suspect, a referee in a bite suit, ran away. The dog was then released and would quickly take down the referee.
For the final event, the teams went on a 2-mile endurance challenge. During the run, the handler had three minutes to answer veterinary questions.
The points were tallied as Kevin Sonka, Rocky Mountain Dawgs Project president, started cooking the food.
“I started the Rocky Mountain division of Feed the Dawgs in honor of my son, U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. David Michael Sonka, and his MPC Flex,” Sonka said. “They were both killed in action May 4, 2013, in the Farah Province, Afghanistan.”
The project provides steak barbecues to America’s defenders.
“After all the steaks are done, we start the meal with a long time tradition,” Sonka said. “The highest-ranking person will take a steak off the grill and give it to the youngest person there.”
This time, U.S. Air Force Col. Jason Knight, 4th Mission Support Group commander, served a steak to Senior Airman Rachel Shetler, 4th Security Forces Squadron military working dog handler.
The meal was followed by the awards ceremony where the Top Dog went to MPC Lando and his handler, Elbrecht.
To thank Sonka for his time and for providing the contest with a free barbecue, U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Nicole Gilley, 4th SFS kennel master, presented Sonka with a folded flag, which was flown in remembrance of his son, and with a custom portrait of his son and MPC.
“I can’t thank you all enough for coming out here and competing,” Sonka said. “Thank you for everything you all do. You are all heroes, and I am thankful for each and every one of you.”