After about 10 minutes, the Vet came back in the room, after knocking and announcing that she was about to enter. She opened the door and peeked inside. I could see fight or flight written all over her face. I reassured her that it was safe to come in.
The Vet said, “Sorry about that. I really should have listened, and that is the last time I will ignore the advice of a handler when it comes to the attitude of their dog.”
“Good idea. Now, I’ll restrain her and you can get a good look at her tail and decide what we should do.”
“Sounds good,” she said.
They ended up shaving her tail and bandaging it. There was plenty of growling and thrashing about, but no one was worse for wear at the end of the appointment. When the Vet was done with Fama, I reached down and unhooked her muzzle to let her get some air and play a little ball. I didn’t see a Vet or even a technician for the rest of the time there, not even on the way out. I think Scotty beamed them out of the building.
We headed back to K9 village to meet up with the rest of the guys, and ran into Eddie, who was our lead instructor. I told him about what happened at the Vet’s office and we had a good laugh. He suggested that Fama stay with me at the hotel instead of at the kennels with the rest of the dogs. That was just fine by me. I would rather have had her with me anyways. We finished up the administrative tasks that always accompany any military movement, and then headed for the hotel.
Shortly after we arrived at the hotel room, successfully executing the cool dog handler guy kennel-in-one-hand, dog-in-the-other maneuver up stairs to the room, Heath stopped by to check on us. He let me know that under no circumstances was Fama to be loose in the room. She was to stay in her crate unless I was taking her out to break her. Of course I agreed, and then let her out of the kennel right after he left for a wrestling match on the bed. She spent every night sleeping with her head on my leg. Don’t tell Heath.
Our training started the next morning with, what else, the shit run, except now we are in the dessert, and the temperature is about 50 degrees warmer than Indiana. Nobody had any fun at all that morning, dog or man alike. We finished up the run, covered in sweat and sand, and headed off to our first training event at K9 village. All the handlers were a little anxious at how their dogs were going to perform in the new environment, as dogs need an adjustment period just like us humans. I was especially nervous after watching several dog teams, that normally performed very well, have a really bad day. when it was our turn to go, I got Fama all harnessed up and headed to the venue, feeling the anxiety build as we walked up to Mark, a former Air Force dog handler with a quick wit and ready smile. She had plenty of pep in her step, and seemed to be all ready to go, unlike some of the other dogs.
“Do your thing Chief,” was all he said, so I put her to work. She rocketed down the road in a nice zig-zag search pattern and indicated on the first hide almost immediately. It was like somebody let the air back into my lungs. We were going to be just fine. Mark, who had never seen us work before, was definitely impressed. We finished out the rest of the training problem, and received a critique of our run from him as we walked back to the start point.
“She’s a helluva dog there Sergeant Winners. You guys looked great.”
I was smiling from ear to ear while I struggled for 2 minutes to get her ball away from her; we still had some work to do, I’ll admit. She was in fine form, and seemingly picked up right where we left off in Indiana. This was a huge relief, because in 3 short weeks, we had to certify as a dog team before we could deploy to Afghanistan. This certification was to be 4 days of testing, administered by Army Working Dog personnel that we didn’t know. We were all a little freaked out about the whole process, and it felt good to see Fama on top of her game.
After a short lunch break, it was time to run the obstacle course, which made the one in Indiana look like a hamster cage. The short jumps were 4 feet tall, and the tall ones we almost 6 feet. There was a huge A-frame, easily 10 feet tall, and a series of steps up to platforms that were crazy steep, and 10 feet to the top. It was all just a little huge. I was pretty confident when I stepped up to the line with my dog. Fama was a straight stud on the OB course in Indiana, as we practiced there almost daily. I got her wound up with my voice and some slaps to her chest. She knew what was coming and was excited to go.
We took off for the first 4 foot jump, and I gave the up command, waiting for Fama to gracefully sail over the jump as she always had. She had a different idea. She juked around the near side of the jump, not caring that my legs used to be in that same exact location. I was in full kit, wearing body armor and my helmet, and I hit the sandy ground head first, and immediately stopped. There was no Jackie Chan combat roll back up to my feet. Not even a slide into home plate. I hit the ground like a Volvo hitting the barrier in those crash test commercials. I couldn’t breathe. Hell, I couldn’t even think about not being able to breathe.
A couple of the handlers came over and helped me to my wobbly feet. I took Fama’s leash from one of them, gritted my teeth against the will to strangle her, and headed for the sidelines. We paused for a short commercial break, chased down a couple of Advil with a bottle of water, and then headed back out to get back on that horse. I noticed the video cameras had mysteriously appeared and were rolling, waiting for a repeat performance. This time I approached with some caution, guiding her over the jump with the handle on the back of her harness. After the first couple of jumps were under her belt, she had the confidence to charge them properly and get some air. We sailed through the course together, even jumping the 6 foot jumps with confidence, having a ball and wearing my old ass out. We had completed day 1 at YPG with little more than a few scratches, a sore shoulder, and a headache. I considered it a resounding success.