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Yuma Proving Ground's working dog training facility world-renowned
Most military installations focus on training combat forces, but U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground is primarily known as one of the Department of Defense's premier test and evaluation sites. In addition to boasting one of the longest overland artillery ranges, virtually everything in the Army's ground combat arsenal undergoes testing here.
Yet, nearly 100 units from all branches of the armed forces visit YPG annually to train in its harsh desert environment. The most renowned of these training missions are the nine unique working dog training courses conducted at the proving ground's realistic training villages.
“Unlike traditional military working dog facilities which are in a garrison-type environment, the specific purpose here is to have expeditionary-type living conditions,” said Luis Arroyo, Training Exercise Management Office chief. “In addition to the training they get in the natural environment, teams get the added value of preparing to operate in any theater of operations under austere, less-than-fully-resourced conditions.”
YPG's reputation in the military working dog world is well known both at home and abroad, and it has garnered visitors from such partner nations as the United Kingdom, Israel, Australia and New Zealand. Recently, the Marine Corp's Inter-service Advanced K9 Skills course was observed by members of the Royal Air Force of Denmark, which has jurisdiction over all of that nation's military working dogs.
“We look to improve all the time in our deployment training, and the climate in Denmark is not very similar to the climate of Afghanistan,” said Capt. Jimmy Helsinghoff of the Danish Royal Air Force. “This facility gives the environment: the heat, the way the ground is built, and the way odors work.”
A veteran of multiple deployments to Afghanistan, Helsinghoff says the rigorous Danish military working dog handler training requires participants to complete a two-year training program prior to deployment and keep their working dogs with them at all times, at home and in the field. Helsinghoff represents Denmark on a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) working group concerned with military working dog training throughout the alliance, and it was through his American colleagues on this panel that he was invited to visit American military working dog training facilities.
“Within a NATO context, why not learn from each other?” said Helsinghoff. “If American forces have already invented the wheel, why should I invent it in Denmark?”
Helsinghoff, who was accompanied by a kennel master from the Royal Air Force, saw 17 students pass the intense pre-deployment training, progressing from basics like first aid and improvised explosive device identification to intense tactical searches in YPG's various simulated urban area compounds and overland across rugged terrain. They had particular praise for Gunnery Sgt. Kristopher Knight, course chief, and the instructors from multiple services that led the students.
“Gunny Knight and his staff have been superb in showing us around and explaining what they are trying to accomplish,” said Helsinghoff. “They do a very good course here with very realistic set-ups. Training-wise, this is the best facility I've seen: if you removed the cactus, I would think I was in Afghanistan. I would definitely love to have my dog handlers come here.”