Staff Sgt. Zackery Leist, 88th Security Forces Squadron military working dog handler, and his MWD, Bulit, flew out of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base on a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter to Camp Atterbury, Indiana, May 2 to participate in Guardian Response 23, a joint service military and multi-component exercise focused on domestic disaster response.
The exercise took place April 13 through May 11, and the scenario for Guardian Response was the detonation of a nuclear device in a major American city.
Bulit’s training began as soon as Leist put protective goggles and ear protection on him.
“It was mine and Bulit’s first time on a helicopter, it was a very cool experience and training for both of us,” Leist said. “He did really well.”
Once they arrived at Camp Atterbury, Leist and Bulit boarded a CH-47 Chinook helicopter to Muscatatuck Urban Training Center, Indiana, where they conducted the bulk of their training.
Leist and Bulit were one of roughly 5,500 Army Reserve, National Guard, active duty, Air Force and Marines participating in Guardian Response.
“On America’s worst day, we are going to need these Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airmen to come in and take care of property and save lives of the people impacted by disaster,” said Brig. Gen. Christopher Cook, 78th Training Division commander and exercise director for GR23.
The exercise focuses on integrating DoD elements into and under the Civilian response structure and authorities as would be the case in a real domestic incident. The response force’s primary goals are to save lives and reduce suffering.
Bulit is the youngest of the MWDs and hasn’t had the opportunity to be exposed to the type of scenarios and environments found within GR23.
“I’m Bulit’s first handler and he’s only a pup,” Leist said. “He hasn’t seen what most of our other experienced dogs have seen, so exposing him to different environments is a big thing for him.”
Some of these scenarios had Leist and Bulit making their way past rubble and overturned cars one moment, and then carefully searching a ruined subway car within an abandoned subway station or crashed airplane the next.
“The environment here is unlike anything you can find at Wright-Patt, a lot of broken-down buildings, subways, even a prison,” Leist said. “You never know what you might encounter.”
During the 36 hours Leist and Bulit participated in the exercise, they conducted explosive detection and pursuit and attack training, throughout the various staged disaster scenarios within the MUTC.
Leist explained that it can be life or death when he and Bulit go out on missions.
“We definitely have a bond, we work side-by-side, he’s my partner, he has my back and I have his,” he said.
Leist takes pride in seeing Bulit grow after every mission.
“The most rewarding part is seeing him excel in different environments,” Leist said. “When he came to the Kennel, he was scared of people and the office in general, which you don’t usually see often but he’s definitely grown out of his shell. It’s awesome to see him grow before my eyes.”
Col. Edward “Joe” Benz III, commander of 2nd Brigade, 78th Training Division and deputy exercise director explains why it’s so important for military members to host and participate in exercises like this.
“We don’t believe this is a case of if, but when,” he said. “There will be an incident, a natural disaster where these troops are called upon to do this and we have special training, equipment, and the ability to get there quickly.”
Participating in joint exercises like Guardian Response 23 sharpens MWD handlers and MWD’s skills, boosts their capabilities and bolsters their mission readiness.
“I believe this whole situation, this whole scenario we’re doing is definitely helping him come out of his shell so he can mature and grow up,” Leist said. “I think he’s going to be walking around the kennel like a proud dog, showing off to the other dogs when we get back.”