05/23/13 — Canine commandos

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Canine commandos

By John Joyce
Published in News on May 23, 2013 1:46 PM

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Deputy Billy Rivenbark and his K-9 partner, Remco, get ready for a day of training with the Wayne County Sheriff's Office Airwatch team. The training program is to ensure rapid response to a remote location.

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Airwatch pilot John Denning and Tom Parker of the Wayne County Sheriff's Office Airwatch land in a field to drop off K-9 officer Dan Truhan and his partner, Nox, as part of a joint training exercise using both air and ground units.

Crooks can still run, but they can no longer hide, not with an eye in the sky and cops on all fours working together.

The Wayne County Sheriff's Office combined two of its best assets for catching criminals when its helicopter -- code named "Raven" -- and four K-9 Team working dogs and their handlers took to the air over Wayne County Monday afternoon.

"This is just another aspect of their training," Deputy Jason Sasser said.

He and his working dog, Shorty, climbed aboard the chopper for a brief familiarization.

Chief pilot Lt. Tom Parker and operator First Sgt. John Kenny invited each deputy-and-dog tandem into their cabin to get acclimated to the sights, smells and sounds.

What was new to Shorty, and Nox, handled by Deputy Dan Truhan, was old hat for the other two pairs. Deputy Martin McAlduff and his dog, Shelly, and Deputy Billy Rivenbark and Remco, have flown before.

Remco is a 10-year veteran due to retire at the end of June.

"He might need a little boost getting in and out," Rivenbark joked.

He lifted the senior dog into the seat and let him get settled.

By the end of the day, however, Remco was leaping in and out of the chopper just like the younger pooches.

"We're doing rapid deployment scenarios where, if a K-9 unit was on scene tracking a suspect and the dog tired out, we would fly in another dog and that team would be able to pick right up," McAlduff said.

The dogs do tire, but not easily, and they won't quit on their own, he said.

"You have to literally pull them off a search."

The air insertion didn't seem to bother the dogs one bit.

Each handler brought his dog to a starting point while the chopper idled in front of the hanger. Operator Denny got out and stood in front of the cockpit.

With the exchange of a thumbs-up, the pair approached around the side of the chopper, boarded and deployed.

Within minutes, the tactical tracking team was back on the ground, on the trail, and taking down the simulated bad guy.

"I'd say it went well. All four dogs were successful on the track," Sasser said, meaning they each caught their man.

The flight training is just the first in a series of training scenarios that will take place over the next few weeks.

On June 1, the dog teams are slated to train with the Wayne County Dive Team doing search and rescue drills.

The Sheriff's Office has also obtained a second helicopter, an OH-58 just like the Raven but a model-year older. The aircraft was donated by the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries, which ended its air operations last year.

It still has some training and readiness checks to go through before becoming operational, Parker said.

Sheriff Carey Winders said he will dedicate the helicopter when it's ready to take on actual duties, hopefully sometime in late June or July.