Demand Skyrockets for K-9 Bomb Teams
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 1, 2002 Life has been more hectic than usual lately for Army Staff Sgt. Martin Lowrey and his K-9 partner, Kiko. The military policeman and his 6-year-old bomb-sniffing German shepherd have been on the go almost constantly since Sept. 11.
On Jan. 24, for example, Lowrey and Kiko (pronounced KEE- koh), of the Military Police Company Canine Section at Fort Myer, Va., started their day at Fort Meade, Md., wrapping up a weeklong temporary assignment. By 10 a.m., they were at Fort Belvoir, Va., about 60 miles south, testing their explosive detection skills in a warehouse training site.
Just before noon, Lowrey got word he had a real mission. By 6 p.m., he and Kiko had to be in Cincinnati to sweep in advance of a vice-presidential visit. So the rush was on. The sergeant had to get back to Myer, book a flight, pack a bag and hit the airways.
The Fort Myer teams support local military bases and routinely go on missions across the country and around the globe to help protect top U.S. government officials. Two of Lowrey's nine fellow dog handlers were already on assignment at the 2002 Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City.
The teams "are constantly gone," said Sgt. 1st Class David Reiter, the company kennel master. "Since 9-11, everybody wants dogs. They're a hot commodity." So much so that it's a challenge to schedule mandatory proficiency training, noted Reiter, who's worked with military K-9 units for 15 years.
Lowrey is a relative newcomer to the field with about four years of K-9 duty. He's spent two years working with Kiko, who like most things in the military, has his own serial number -- Z181. Man and dog trained for their duties at the working dog training center at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas.
A native of Hillsboro, Wis., Lowrey joined the Army 12 years ago and plans to complete at least a 20-year military career.
"I grew up in a small town," he said. "The closest town to my house had a population of 77. I had to ride a bus 12 miles to my high school. There were 54 of us in my graduating class. It was a really small community -- the Czech capital of Wisconsin.
"When I was a sophomore in high school, I decided I wanted to serve my country and I wanted to be a police officer," he continued. "My mother really didn't want me to join the military because she had lost a couple of uncles in Vietnam, but I joined straight out of high school."
Since joining the Army, Lowrey said, he's gone places, met people and done things he never would have dreamed of doing while growing up in Wisconsin.
"Everything I've done in the military, I would have had either no opportunity or little opportunity to get -- the training and the experiences that I've had, whether it be the traveling and sightseeing or work," he said.
"I've gone to the World Series with the president and now I'm doing missions at Camp David (Md.). I've gone on a White House tour with a Secret Service agent and stayed at five-star hotels. Movie stars going to these hotels can't bring their pets, and we're allowed to bring our working dogs."
After completing basic and advanced training at Fort McClellan, Ala., Lowrey served in Korea. "I did gate guard (and) was an M-60 gunner, a driver and a team leader," he recalled. Next came a four-and-a-half year tour at Fort Myer and a six-month rotation in Bosnia right after the Dayton Peace Accord was signed in 1995. His mother wasn't thrilled when she heard about that assignment, he noted.
Lowrey then went to a 12-week training program at Lackland before setting off for a tour in Hawaii. At Lackland, the military taught him how dogs think and how to train them.
"Obedience is the key to any type of training because if the dog won't listen to you, it won't do what it's supposed to do," he said. Most important, he learned, was establishing a rapport with his dog. "If a dog doesn't care for you and doesn't want to work for you, he's not going to."
In Hawaii, Lowrey worked with a dog that had been trained to find illegal drugs. The duo did a three-month stint in El Paso, Texas, supporting U.S. Customs officers.
Returning to Fort Myer, Lowrey teamed up with Kiko. The two spent the first few days just getting acquainted. "I put the choke chain and leash on, went on a walk and played with him," Lowrey recalled. "We played fetch and did re- call drills, where he practices bringing a reward back to me."
Next, Lowrey worked Kiko on the basic obedience course. "We're supposed to make it a game for them," he said. "It's actually fun for the dogs, they enjoy it."
They then moved on to explosives detection and aggression training. From that point on, Lowrey noted, Kiko was the only dog he handled, and routine missions kept them "pretty busy."
Their workload intensified dramatically starting Sept. 11. On that day, Lowrey and his colleagues at the Fort Myer kennel witnessed the terrorist attack in New York on television. Then they heard and felt the explosion at the Pentagon nearby.
Immediately and for the next several days, the handlers and their dogs began 24-hour operations at area bases, inspecting all incoming vehicles.
The terrorist attacks added an even more intense reality and new urgency to Lowrey and Kiko's jobs. Even though their skills have been in constant demand ever since Sept. 11, Lowrey said he has no complaints.
"My father is a volunteer firefighter in Wisconsin," he said. "I'm like him. If I'm needed somewhere, I'm going to go."
Lowrey said his father had been on standby to help in New York after the terrorist attack, but ended up not having to go. For Christmas, the military policeman gave his dad a New York Fire Department ball cap.
"He still brags about it, because I picked it up for him," Lowrey said.