Quantico, Virginia - On an already-hot Friday morning the Youth Education Summit donned their camo t-shirts and prepared to board the bus for a day at Marine Corps Base Quantico. Before heading out, however, the NRA staff put them through a mini-boot camp to get the mood just right.
Push ups, jumping jacks and a bit of learning to stand at attention while your "drill instructor" yelled were the name of the game and pretty soon everyone was in their seats and on the road.
"Could anyone else not stop laughing?" I overheard one student ask those nearby. "I could never join the military. It was impossible to keep a straight face."
The students got a few more speeches out of the way while in transit and soon arrived at the base. There they met their guide for the day, Corporal Sanford, who announced our first stop would be at the K-9 Unit to learn how Marine dogs are trained.
The unit is mainly made up of Belgian Malinois and German Shepherds - and humans- which are extremely smart and strong breeds.
Once at the facility, the dog handlers brought out a few of their pups and gave a few demonstrations of the obstacle course the dogs train on. Marine K-9s don't just need to be able to run around, though, their heightened sense of smell is extremely valuable in detecting dangerous items. On duty, dogs act as a deterrent for illegal activity and are effective at antiterrorism by taking part in patrols, sentry duty and random explosive and narcotic sweeps.
Trained in either explosives detection or narcotics detection, the group was treated to a demonstration on a dog's ability to not only detect an illegal substance in a piece of luggage, but single out the specific bag in a group of them.
As one of the Marines put on a thick, padded suit, we were told about how the dogs are also trained to handle human threats. The Marine in the suit then played the part of an unruly person while a handler attempted, dog at his side, attempted to interact with him. When the "unruly" Marine attempted to flee, the handler commanded the dog to go after him and the dog was soon latched on to the man's arm.
One of the handlers then told us a story about the time Minnesota Vikings' All-Pro Defensive End Jared Allen visited troops deployed in the middle east. Allen, a behemoth of a man, said he thought he could outrun a K-9 and the Marines were more than happy to toss him a padded suit. The handler told us Allen was given a five second head start before a flash of fur soon leaped onto his back and pulled him down. The lesson here was that no one can outrun one of the K-9 Unit's dogs.
Dogs aren't the only ones trained at the unit. Handlers must learn how to properly command the animals and are trained in the most effective uses in the field. The dogs can't do everything after all and must be led by their handlers.
The group had plenty of questions ready when prompted. Some could be answered, like how long the dogs are effective in their role (until about age 9), but the Marines were not at liberty to discuss others.
At the point where everyone was really beginning to feel the heat, it was time to thank the K-9 unit for everything, get back on the bus for a blast of cold air and head off to the next stop - marksmanship training.