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CBS program '60 Minutes' visits YPG
The CBS television network began airing the award winning program “60 Minutes” in 1968, but had never set aside time to visit the Army's busiest proving ground, Yuma Proving Ground, until late last week. Over the course of two mid-February days, the CBS crew focused their cameras on military working dog training occurring year round, training that has saved an untold number of American lives in combat areas overseas.
Producer Reuben Heyman-Kantor was impressed with the local landscape that closely resembles what he has seen on visits to Afghanistan and Iraq, and the close interaction he witnessed between working dogs and their military handlers.
“This is an amazing facility and I'm glad we traveled across the country to see it,” he said. “YPG is one of the premier military dog training facilities in the nation, as people at other installations have told us.”
The central theme of the 60 Minutes story deals with the high tech nature of today's military that still relies on the unique capabilities of working dog teams to search out hidden explosives, as well as tracking and other tasks. The dog's keen senses of smell and hearing make them far more effective at detecting explosive dangers than humans.
Marine Capt. Shaun Locklear, officer-in-charge of the training class the 60 Minutes crew filmed, accompanied the crew as it visited YPG's kennel faculties, its canine village training area and at a small arms firing range.
“The key to training a dog is repetition,” he said as he watched, and the CBS crew filmed, military handlers firing rounds at targets while dogs advanced at their sides. Some dogs jumped up and down from the loud crack of the firing, while others took it in stride. “Dogs naturally try to protect their handlers by attacking the weapon. The more often they experience the shock and sound, the easier it is for them to adapt. By and large, the dogs today are outstanding.”
The Marines and Soldiers taking the course aren't used to camera crews running around on a daily basis, an initial distraction that quickly vanished. “We told them to focus on the task at hand, but I know it was exciting for everyone, “ said Locklear.
Army Sgt. Eric Conway, who traveled from Camp Zama, Japan, is an experienced working dog handler learning advanced skills at the three week YPG course. He took the television crew visit in stride.
“Training is training,” he said as he relaxed after loading his weapons. “The members of the camera crew are in the background doing what they do, the end result getting the word out about what we do and the importance of our training. In my opinion, this is the most important job in the Army.”
The CBS crew says the program will air before the conclusion of the 60 Minutes broadcast season in mid-May, probably on Sunday, April 14. The viewing audience will range between ten and 15 million people. The entire segment will last 12 minutes, with the YPG portion about one-third of that.
The seven-person crew arrived in town by air with nearly 50 pieces of luggage carrying cameras, lights, sound equipment and a great deal more. One person stated they spent over $1000 in airline excessive baggage costs.
Longtime 60 Minutes Reporter Lara Logan headed the crew. A veteran of multiple visits, some lasting months, to Afghanistan and Iraq, she was assaulted by a mob two years ago while covering political unrest in Cairo, Egypt. The culmination of the YPG visit was a detailed interview conducted by Logan with course instructor Gunnery Sgt Chris Knight, a man recognized as a dog training expert throughout the military working dog world. Some call him the “dog whisperer.”
Knight is passionate about his work, fully believing in the value of what he does. “Dogs save lives in combat areas and offer a service no man can offer,” he said. “If dogs or handlers can't get it right in our training, they certainly won't be able perform well in combat.” About 20 percent of the dogs in classes supervised by Knight are washed out.
“What I do is much more than a job to me,” he stated to Logan while the cameras rolled. “This is my life. I have zero intention of doing anything other than training dogs in my life.”