YUMA, Ariz. — Aster, a 1-year-old long-haired Labrador Chesapeake, had an upset stomach and threw up in the examining room of the Yuma Proving Ground's veterinarian clinic.
The dog is one of several dozens that just arrived from Indiana, where they embarked on a military working dog training program. At YPG's Mine Detection School, the dogs will train in detecting explosives in buildings, vehicles, buried in the roadway or somewhere in the field, probably in Afghanistan.
Aster is a "spare," a standby dog in case one of the others doesn't pass the medical exam or training. If the playful and energetic dog passes the medical exams, it will take part in "rigorous training" as they learn to sniff out mines and explosives.
"A lot of the teams don't make it. They're cut," said Mark Schauer, public affairs specialist at YPG.
Capt. Emily Pieracci, veterinarian officer in charge, gave Aster an antibiotic. "They can get the travel bug, just like people do," she explained.
On Thursday YPG veterinarians conducted the physical exams and laboratory tests.
"The dogs will be examined to make sure they are healthy and medically fit to start training," Pieracci said.
"Just like us, if we don't feel good, if we have the flu, we don't work as good as we could. It's their job to keep the handlers alive and the handlers' job is to keep the unit safe."
The dogs already spent four weeks training in Indiana. After their training at YPG, they will be deployed to Afghanistan in early January.
Each year YPG prepares hundreds of dogs and handlers for deployment overseas, as well as trains K-9 units for civilian law enforcement agencies, according to Schauer.
YPG has eight different programs from multiple branches of the military, each managed separately and with a unique mission.
Schauer pointed out that in Afghanistan, "American forces have to contend with an estimated 10 million legacy mines from past conflicts, as well as new devices placed by insurgents. YPG has the expertise, facilities and geographical features working dog units need to train realistically."
Sgt. 1st Class Harry Franco, non-commissioned officer in charge of the program, pointed out that YPG's environment is the closest to Afghanistan's available in the continental United States.
"A standard combat engineer would take hours to extract a casualty from this minefield," Franco said. "We train these teams to do it in 45 minutes."
"Dogs are able to detect odors nearly 100 million times faster than humans can, a feat that the soldiers are counting on to save them from danger," Schauer said.
The dogs are rewarded with a tennis ball and praise whenever they find hidden explosives.
Going off into the field, the work is life and death, Schauer noted.
Outside the clinic, Spc. Ryan Denton and Koma, a 1½-year-old German shepherd, awaited their turn for an exam. Denton said he chose to enter the working dog program because he loves dogs and wants to be an asset to the Army.
He's already bonded with the dog. "They don't like to be out of our sight," he said.
Also waiting for their turn were handler PV2 Thurwin Lane and his partner, Bartje, a 1½-year-old Belgium Malinois.
"They gave me the option. I said yes. It's an opportunity to try something new," Lane said when asked why he's participating in the program.
He pointed out that he also likes dogs. "I actually have a couple of sheepdog back home (in Rock Point, Ariz.)."
For Staff Sgt. Matthew Satterlee, who works with Satan (he pointed out the dog was named before working together), a 1½-year-old German shepherd, working with these dogs means "being able to find explosives and save lives."
Satterlee noted that Satan stays in a kennel until it's time to work. "They're not pets. But you do build a bond, and that's what gets the dog to work for you.
"It's fun for them, it's a game. Their reward is a tennis ball if they do their job."
Information from: The Sun, http://www.yumasun.com