Story by 1st Lt. Andrew B Layton on 10/11/2018ALPENA, Mich. During a typical training event at Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center, Mich., military uniforms of multiple U.S. military branches and partner nations can be spotted around the base at any given time. The state-of-the art facility often hosts readiness exercises and events that are as diverse as they are important to ensuring the readiness and defense capability of U.S. and coalition partners.
From Sept. 29 Oct. 4, the training center hosted a force that looked very different indeed, as over 330 working dogs and handlers along with more than 40 master K9 instructors congregated on-base for the National Association of Professional Canine Handlers (NAPCH) annual seminar.
It is the 16th consecutive year that the NAPCH gathering has been held at Alpena CRTC.
"These are paid working dog handlers from law enforcement, military, firefighting, private security, and hospital security," said Terry Foley, president of the NAPCH. "This year, we have working dog teams from 28 states and Canada."
According to Chief Master Sgt. Rob Mills, Alpena CRTC Chief of Logistics, a series of training areas were set up on base to simulate scenarios that could be encountered by a working dog team, including narcotics interception, explosive detection, and cadaver location.
"They also use the former Catholic Central High School and Bingham Elementary School locations in Alpena, where they run drills complete with lockers, classrooms and a gymnasium, just as if they had been called into a school" said Mills. "With those facilities, they have the whole environment to train in."
For a professional association meeting, these training elements make the NAPCH seminar a remarkably dynamic experience.
"The thing that's unique about our seminar is that it's a full training environment with the dogs," said Foley. "That's why this is probably the largest event of its type in the country."
In addition to hands-on training, visiting working dog teams have occasionally been able to augment local law enforcement operations during past seminars, including real-world traffic stops and searches. On one occasion, a visiting K9 team intercepted a quantity of heroin that would otherwise have been distributed in the Alpena area.
Foley says he's especially proud of that fact that this year, he was called by the Alpena county sheriff with a request to aid local deputies in ensuring the safety and whereabouts of an 84-year-old Alpena woman who had gone missing.
"We met with the local jurisdiction and formed a search party," said Foley. "They were able to locate the woman safely and in good health just a few hours later."
The woman had been suffering from dementia.
According to Mills, the NAPCH have also been ready to assist when Alpena CRTC missions have called for K9 support. Working dog teams from the organization have performed security details during at least two air shows hosted at the training center, a public open house in 2011, and for the Chief of the National Guard Bureau's visit to Alpena in 2015.
"In terms of civilian law enforcement, the closest K9 team is in St. Ignace, so for them to come and support an event is a lot to ask," said Mills. "The NAPCH has always made themselves available to assist."
Foley says that the dog handlers are pleased when they're able to help the local community and the annual trip to Alpena is one they always enjoy.
"It's so unique and it's so beautiful here," said Foley. "With the size and scope of the facility, we are able house everyone, feed them, and keep the training fee to such a nominal amount that they can't get this kind of training anywhere else."
Officials in the Michigan Air National Guard say that with so many mutual benefits, "dog week" has become a welcome hallmark of the CRTC's annual schedule.
"This event and the presence of these men and women in Alpena is a real benefit for the community," said Lt. Col. James Rossi, interim commander at Alpena CRTC. "Not only do they provide a fantastic economic benefit to local businesses, but the NAPCH stands by to assist the community whenever needed. We sincerely hope our partnership with the NAPCH continues for decades to come."