RAPID CITY, S.D. -- An obstacle course inside a renovated aircraft hangar at Ellsworth Air Force Base is helping some members of the military get ready for duty.
But those training at the base in western South Dakota aren't airmen. The course with a catwalk, tunnel, jumps, seesaw, open stairs and other obstacles is being used to train dogs that will be deployed all over the world to sniff out narcotics, explosives and other hazardous materials as they work with the Army, Air Force and other branches of the military.
The training facility that opened in October at Ellsworth Dock 32 is the first of its kind at an Air Force base in the continental U.S., the Rapid City Journal reported. The indoor facility allows for the training of dogs regardless of weather conditions.
"We're training them in a realistic environment, trying to simulate the conditions they'd face in the field," said Tech Sgt. Abraham Wheeler, the kennel master for the 25th Security Forces Squadron. "It's an advantage that we didn't have, where five months of the year we'd close down, and it would decrease the effectiveness of their training. Five months is a long time."
Wheeler has trained between 35 and 40 dogs over eight years. He has worked with nine dogs at the base in Rapid City. Each dog trains for one to two hours a day.
Wheeler said the most challenging obstacle for the dogs is the open stairs, which have wide, see-through spaces between steps that require the canines to adjust as they climb up. Wheeler said the dogs "take one to two runs to get used to the course" and become proficient with practice.
"This is a great facility to have," Wheeler said. "We keep them busy with harder problems and advanced obstacles, and they can tackle anything."