A Dog Defense

 Petty Officer 2nd Class Christopher Hartman and his partner Evy, pose in front of the MSST building

Petty Officer Christopher Hartman and his partner Evy

Story by Petty Officer Melissa Leake

In the aftermath of 9/11, the rules of standard military engagement have changed. So, too, have the plausible responses to armed aggressors, who depend on improvised explosives to pursue the war on terror.

The need for a multi-layered bomb detection system to protect the American public and maritime transportation system of the United States is vital.

One of the explosive-detection teams in the San Francisco Bay area is committed to protecting the public from the weapons of terrorism.

Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Christopher Hartman, a maritime enforcement specialist stationed at the Maritime Safety and Security Team San Francisco (91105) in Alameda, Calif., is part of a two-member team that thoroughly swept the nearby piers, terminals and boats in San Francisco before, during and after the World Series 2010, Fleet Week 2010 and other joint agency activities that involved bomb detection as a prerequisite.

It’s no shock the nation has needed to turn to servicemembers like Hartman to help defend and protect the public. However, what may come as a surprise is that his partner, Evy, wears a collar and a leash.

Evy is a 4-year-old Belgian Malinois and German shepherd mix. In August 2008, she was trained and certified as a bomb-sniffing dog, following completion of a 16-week K-9 school at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Canine Training center in Front Royal, Va.

“Evy’s a great working dog because she has such a high drive to work, which is typical of her breed,” said Hartman. “She wants nothing more than to get out and search.”

Hartman said Evy is a toy-reward dog, and the only time she gets to play with toys is at work.

“When she finds what she’s looking for, explosives, she gets rewarded with a toy, and then it’s play time,” he said. “It’s a lot of work for the handlers, but to the dog, it’s a big game of hide-and-seek with her toy.”

Hartman became interested in the Coast Guard’s K-9 program in 2005 when he was stationed at Sector Los Angeles and witnessed K-9 teams execute a hoist with dogs onto a rescue boat.

“I remember thinking, wow, that has to be the best job in the Coast Guard. When I transferred to MSST Seattle in 2006, I saw firsthand what the K-9 teams actually did. Then, a K-9 position opened up at my unit in 2008, and I jumped at the chance to be a handler,” he said. “The command selected me for the K-9 school, and I left that spring.”

Hartman said the training for K-9 handlers is vigorous and constant, but the job is essential and the Coast Guard’s K-9 teams are one of the country’s first lines of defense in the maritime environment.

“Once the teams graduate, the real training begins. Each team is required to conduct 4 hours of maintenance training a week, in addition to trying to run all of our trained odors,” said Hartman.

Evy’s training is not limited to varying explosive odors, but also frequent location changes, and the Coast Guard’s K-9 teams also have an excellent working relationship with partnering agencies.

“Each agency has its own working environment, whether it is planes, trains, vessels, or infrastructures, each coordinates training in their own specific areas. This allows all of the teams to train and become proficient in a wide variety of locations,” said Hartman. “K-9′s are one of the few teams that have been specially trained to search for explosives hidden on people, and they are also one of the few that have been trained to vertically deploy from the helicopter to a ship at sea before it enters a U.S. port.”

Hartman and Evy have conducted a variety of missions since 2008, and each sweep is different.

“Most of the missions we conduct are ports and waterway coastal security missions. We’ve conducted sweeps of thousands of vehicles prior to boarding the Washington State Ferry, Alaska Marine Highway ferry, San Francisco Bay ferries and the Catalina Island ferries,” said Hartman. “We’ve done sweeps in support of military out-loads and high-profile maritime events, and have also been called out to assist several federal, state and local agencies for bomb threats, crime scene searches and presidential sweeps.”

Canine explosive detection teams are a quick way to help detect for explosives and offer capabilities otherwise not rapidly available.

“Canine explosive detection teams can quickly scan large areas and multiple people or objects effectively and less invasively than other techniques,” said Lt.j.g. Ethan Postrel, MSST 91105’s maritime law enforcement division officer and supervisor of the canine explosive detection team.

Postrel said there are other methods of detection, such as IONSCAN, which is capable of detecting and identifying explosives and narcotics during a single analysis, and X-ray machines, but dogs can cover much more in much less time.

“A CEDT could sweep an entire ferry, and the line of passengers waiting to board the ferry, in a fraction of the time it’d take to do the same job with another method, and the results are more instantaneous, increasing the chances of preventing an attack,” he said. “Plus, dogs are more passive, and are even quite pleasing to many people in comparison to the others.”

Evy, who was purchased from U.S Customs in 2006, is fully funded by and belongs to the government, but lives with Hartman and will transfer with him from unit to unit, until she retires.

“Each handler is responsible for the feeding, grooming and medical readiness of their dogs, and it’s a 24/ 7 job,” said Hartman, who’s been in the Coast Guard for 10 years. “Once Evy reaches retirement, if she becomes sick or can no longer do her job, she will retire and ownership will transfer to me.”

Postrel said CEDT’s are a relatively new and unique tool to the Coast Guard and the position of a canine handler holds a critical value.

“Much of their roles, responsibilities and standard operating procedures are still being defined, and so it falls on the shoulders of the handlers to coordinate training, find work, and learn best practices,” said Postrel. “Because of this, being a Coast Guard K-9 handler requires extremely high initiative, unwavering dedication and the utmost personal responsibility.”

Hartman said the canine explosive detection program is one of the most valuable programs and effective methods of explosive detection the Coast Guard has.

“It’s such a critical asset to have. You can’t turn on the TV without hearing about a suicide bomber, car bomb or improvised explosive device detonating somewhere in the world,” he said. Part of our job in the Coast Guard is to safe guard maritime cargo, passenger transit and the American people. Coast Guard canine explosive detection teams help make this country a safer place for everyone.”

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