MARSOC Multi-Purpose Canine Handlers Train for Unforeseen

A MARSOC multi-purpose canine undergoes training.
A multi-purpose canine with U.S. Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command (MARSOC), participates in Zodiac boat training inserts on Camp Pendleton, California, Feb. 11, 2016. (Sgt. Tabitha A. Markovich/U.S. Marine Corps)

CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- The United States Marine Corps Forces, Special Operations Command (MARSOC) was born in 2006, during the wake of Operation Enduring Freedom's surge. During its eight years of operating within Afghanistan, MARSOC triumphantly left its footprint in the country's evolution to stability, training and advising Afghan National Army Commandos and eradicating Taliban safe havens.

Now, the war in Afghanistan is nearing its conclusion, and no further MARSOC battalions, companies or teams are due to deploy there again. And though the young unit's undertakings during Operation Enduring Freedom have earned the command an immense amount of respect within the Defense Department, the war in Afghanistan by no means defines MARSOC.

Being a highly adaptable force and possessing a multifaceted set of skills, MARSOC has begun transitioning into new areas of operation (AO).

As MARSOC continues to demonstrate its capabilities and versatilities, so, too, are the special operations enablers who embed with the deploying Marine Special Operations Companies.

MARSOC's multi-purpose canine (MPC) unit is such a program, adequately preparing the MPC handlers for the new AOs in which it will be operating.

"Now that MARSOC has broken down into different AOs, we're ensuring all the handlers know what AO they're going into, and what mission set the teams could be tasked with," the Multi-Purpose Canine program manager said.

That AO breakdown involves each Marine Special Operations Battalion (MSOB) deploying in service of a different regionalized special operations command. First MSOB deploys under Special Operations Command Pacific, 2nd MSOB deploys under Special Operations Command Central and 3rd MSOB deploys under Special Operations Command Africa.

"All of our guys have all the same capabilities, but each handler will be dealing with a different mission set in respect to his AO, so we're constantly training and recertifying our guys to create a great product for the teams," the MPC program manager said.

The multi-purpose canines' core capabilities include explosives detection, tracking and protection work. Along with maintaining these perishable and essential skills, the MPC program actively introduces additional training to the handlers and canines to meet the needs of the Marine Special Operations Teams (MSOT).

"That's what we bring to MARSOC with our multi-purpose canines -- a dog with several different capabilities to be able to conduct whatever mission the team has for us," the MPC program manager said. "They're getting a multi-purpose canine that's off-leash, sniffing out explosives; they can track, patrol, chase down fleeing suspects and provide an extra layer of protection to the team."

The MPC program manager went on to say that this particular canine program has a unique ability to change quickly while adapting to varying AOs -- given the small size of the unit -- and the resources available to it.

In transitioning into the new AOs, the MSOBs now are placing more of an emphasis on maritime operations. The MPC program has followed suit to accommodate the operational need of the MSOTs.

"Aside from the fast roping and repelling we've been working on, we're also spending a lot more time in the water," said a handler who recently deployed to Afghanistan with 2nd MSOB. "You know, Afghanistan is a landlocked country, so there was never any need for that. With the new AOs we're deploying to, there's definitely the potential we'll be in the water more."

The AOs are designed to cover the bulk, if not all of the assigned region. This allows MARSOC, partnered with the other existing Special Operations Forces (SOF), to canvas the globe essentially in support of a global SOF network.

This will be the first time any SOF unit has brought along a multi-purpose canine element to many of the areas the MSOTs are expected to visit. In addition, these AOs cover a considerable land mass containing different countries, cultures, terrains, climates, threat considerations, etc.

"We're currently trying to build some new skill sets and also improve the things we already know," the handler said. "We're figuring out what the mission set is going to be, and what is going to be asked of us, and then we're just preparing for that."

As the MPC handlers continue to deploy with the Marine Special Operations Companies, they'll bring back with them helpful information regarding their tours and how they can adapt better to the needs of the MSOTs. The MPC program manager said the handlers who have come back from Special Operations Command Pacific deployments returned with invaluable information.

"Once we identify a capability we need to change, we'll either enhance that capability, change that capability, even do away with that capability if it's no longer needed; or we'll create a new capability if that's what's desired by MARSOC," the MPC program manager said.

To expedite the preparation and adaptation process, the program manager said the handlers are refining their skills as trainers to develop new skills, as needed, while deployed.

"Our goal is to continue to be proficient and continue to be flexible," the MPC program manager said. "MARSOC's motto is 'Today will be different.' That's every day. So, tomorrow, whatever mission is pushed out to us, we have the capability of readying our handlers for that mission requirement."

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