K-9 team ‘top dogs’ in DOD narcotic detection

A Stuttgart K-9 team knows all about the sweet smell of success.
Sgt. Paul Helm and Military Working Dog Eico took top honors in drug detection during the 2012 Defense Department MWD K-9 Trials held May 3-5 at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas.

“It was a team effort,” Helm said of the victory.
He and Eico, both assigned to the 554th Military Police Company’s K-9 section, have been partners for three years.

To earn the title of essentially what is the best drug detection dog team in DOD, Helm and his dog competed against 42 teams from all branches of service over three grueling days. The trials are designed to showcase DOD military working dog teams and test their strength, endurance and control of a situation.

It was the first time in 10 years that the trials have been held. Since 9/11, MWD teams have had to place real-world requirements ahead of competition.
Helm, who hails from Prairie du Rocher, Ill., and Eico, a 6-year-old German shepherd, participated in patrol, detection and “Iron Dog” competitions.
Day One involved patrol scenarios where Helm and Eico conducted a felony traffic stop and a building search. 

On Day Two, the team moved onto the first timed narcotic search problem of the event, a unit health and welfare building search.

“My dog did well. He found both training aids,” Helm said. The second drug detection problem was a vehicle search, similar to what might occur during a random vehicle search at an installation access control point. Eico again found the training aid.

“That made me proud. He was tired … we’d just completed a mile and a half walk before that,” he said. The third detection problem was an open field search. “We had 10 minutes to find the aid, and Eico found it within a couple of minutes,” Helm said.

The trials concluded with an Iron Dog competition on the third day.   
This event tested the stamina and mental capacity of the teams. Armed with mock M-16s and wearing Improved Outer Tactical Vests weighing 30 pounds, the handlers also had to carry 50-pound sandbags in their rucksacks over a six-mile course. 

As part of the event, Helm had to carry 83-pound Eico up a hill for 50 meters and back down. He also had to low-crawl for 50 meters, drag a 175-pound “casualty” 50 meters and scale a four-foot wall, all with Eico at his side.

It may sound like hard work, but, “It’s play for us and for the dogs,” Helm said. He went on to explain that “play” involves hours of training and skill reinforcement to keep Eico at his peak in detection, attack and patrol work.

“On an average day I’m with my dog eight to 10 hours,” he said.
And Helm wouldn’t have it any other way.

“Everyone else has to sit behind a desk or drive around in a patrol car,” he said. “I get to play with my dog all day. “It’s the best job in the military.”

Editor’s Note: Senior Airman Scott Saldukas, 47th Flying Training Wing Public Affairs, and Staff Sgt. Ricky Caravona, the 554th MP Co. Kennel Master also contributed to this story.