By Airman 1st Class Jason Piatek, 28th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
/ Published October 16, 2003
ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE, S.D. (AFPN) -- The top military working dog team in the nation has been marking its territory atop the national rankings since the Ellsworth team formed more than two years ago. The team finished in fourth place at the U.S. Police Canine National Field Trials in Atlantic City, N.J., on Oct. 5 to10
For the second year in a row, Staff Sgt. Jeremiah Jessen, a 28th Security Forces Squadron dog handler, and his dog, Brian, have finished among the top four K-9 teams in the nation.
The competition featured 127 of the nation’s top teams, all from civilian police agencies, except for the Ellsworth duo, this year’s only military team to qualify for the nationals.
“The military participation keeps getting better in the competitions each year, and (Jessen and Brian) are the best I’ve ever seen,” said Jim Sweat, U.S. Police Canine Association national president.
At the 2002 nationals, Jessen and Brian placed third overall, the highest ever for a military team, and their point total this year was actually higher.
“The only way to improve is through hard work and dedication,” Jessen said. “Anyone can have a good dog, but unless you’re willing to put in the extra hours and effort, you won’t reach that higher level of proficiency where everyone knows they can count on you to get the job done, which should be the goal of every K-9 team.”
He said the two have been “getting the job done” together for more than two years, and this finish is further proof of their dedication.
The tournament consisted of six events: obedience, agility, article search, suspect search and criminal apprehension with and without a weapon.
“The obedience event consisted of walking, sitting and heeling your dog, while the judges watched to see how well the dog responded to your commands,” Jessen said.
The agility event contained hurdles, an A-frame ramp, catwalk, broad jump and tunnel for the dogs to maneuver through.
The article search event was held at a 30-by-30 foot pad of knee-high grass where the judges have placed two articles. The teams had three minutes to find the articles, a task which Jessen and Brian completed in one minute, 18 seconds.
“They looked very sharp,” said Mike Calaborese, the association’s vice president of region 15. “But they always do well from what I’ve seen. That’s why we’d like to get more military guys here; they’re always very sharp.”
The fourth event, the suspect search, allowed the teams four minutes to search the exterior of six boxes, one which contained an official posing as the suspect. One of the most challenging aspects of this event was for the dog to choose between the box with the suspect, and the “hot box,” which is the box the suspect was in during the previous team’s run, Jessen said.
“The hot box will usually trip up some of the dogs because it still has some of the scent of the suspect, but Brian didn’t have any trouble with it,” Jessen said.
Brian found the correct box in one minute, 35 seconds.
The fifth event was criminal apprehension, where the team’s third member participated as a decoy. Staff Sgt. Justin Marshall, also a 28th SFS handler, acting as the decoy, ran from his teammates three times, and each trial had a different result. First, Brian was ordered to apprehend Marshall. Next, he had to stay and watch Marshall run. Finally, Brian was ordered to apprehend Marshall, but called back before he reached him.
As with every other event, the team’s requirements were performed to near perfection, according to judges.
The final event for the team was criminal apprehension with gunfire. During this event, Marshall fired five rounds, and Brian chased him down, apprehending him within seconds. Jessen caught up to them and started to search the “criminal.” While being searched, Marshall pretended to attack Jessen, to which Brian immediately reattacked Marshall, proving he would put his handler’s safety above all else.
“Sergeant Marshall did an awesome job as the decoy,” Jessen said. “If you don’t have a good decoy, you’re not going to do well (in the apprehension events). He’s the one out there taking all the punishment; he takes a beating, and he’s got the scars to prove it.”
Jessen said the effort put forth by Marshall and the rest of the airmen at the kennel played a huge part in the team’s success at the trials.
“Since Brian was injured for most of the summer and confined to the kennel for the week before nationals, we really needed all the help we could get to make sure he was ready,” Jessen said.
The back up his team received does not end with his fellow dog handlers and other Ellsworth kennel airmen.
“Without the continued support of Major David Koontz (28th SFS commander) and Colonel Theodore La Plante (28th Mission Support Group commander) we wouldn’t be here,” Jessen said. “And if we continue to perform well at nationals and other competitions, it benefits the kennel as far as getting new equipment, program support and just the knowledge that if someone calls on us, they know we’re (going to) go out and get the job done.”
Having such great support from their military family makes up for some of the disadvantages military teams face at national competitions compared to their civilian counterparts, who train for these competition standards year-round, he said.
“As (military working dog) teams, we have to meet our military training requirements first, then we can work on the (association) training when we have time,” Jessen said. “So it’s like double duty, and sometimes it’s hard for Brian to differentiate between the two training methods.”
Regardless of disadvantages, the team has put together a consistent history of awards. A few of those awards include being named “Best in the Air Combat Command” two years in a row, a first place finish for his regional team at the 2002 national trials, and a first-place finish in the Criminal Apprehension Division of the (association’s) Region 12 Field Trials in April.
Jessen said Ellsworth’s representation should continue to be strong in national competitions.
“Brian’s the best dog in the military, and we have a great team not only with him and (me), but also with the team at the kennel, and we’ll continue to show the dedication it takes to prove we’re the ones to call on,” Jessen said.