OCSD hosts annual helicopter training exercise for K9s

By Jessica Peralta

Orange County Sheriff’s Department apprehension K9s paid a visit to the agency’s Loma Ridge facility on March 28 for some rural-area training with the Air Support team.

Part of an annual joint training, the teams spent the day practicing K9 rural search and apprehension, as well as hoisting the dogs with Air Support tactical medics to simulate emergency extraction of injured K9s by helicopter. Four Santa Ana Police Department K9s and handlers, and Westminster PD’s K9 Officer Travis Hartman and his K9, Belgian Malinois/Dutch shepherd Pako, also participated in the training.

“It’s more exposure for our dogs,” said OCSD Deputy Kyle Sheek, who is the K9 handler of 3-year-old Dutch shepherd, Arco.

The training – also part of the K9 unit’s regular Wednesday training – began by flying out members of the teams and their K9s from Loma Ridge to a trail within the canyon where, one by one, each K9 and handler went on a search for a “suspect” (an OCSD deputy in a bite suit) hiding in the brush off the trail.

A K9 receives a belly scratch as he waits to ride an OCSD Duke helicopter.
Photo by Jessica Peralta/Behind the Badge OC

After each K9 got the suspect, the handlers and dogs then had the option of practicing hoisting with an Air Support tactical medic. The dog was first equipped with a hoist harness and then attached to a safety line along with the medic with which they were lifted by the helicopter and then slowly hoisted inside.

These exercises help expose the dogs to something most canines wouldn’t experience. But given the nature of their work, these dogs are at risk of injury and needing to be extracted from an area.

OCSD’s Duke helicopter prepares for takeoff.
Photo by Jessica Peralta/Behind the Badge OC

“So they’re not gonna be scared of the helicopter, the noise,” Sheek said of the importance of the training.

Despite the noise and unique situation, many of the dogs reacted surprisingly well. OCSD Deputy Jeff Flaming said his black Belgian Malinois, 4-year-old Nero, did very well. This was his first exposure to the helicopters.

“He did really good,” Flaming said, adding that his dog simply laid down during the helicopter ride.

The air support crew flies K9/handler teams to a canyon trail off the Orange County Sheriff’s Department’s Loma Ridge facility.
Photo by Jessica Peralta/Behind the Badge OC

Jim Slikker, an Air Support tactical medic training with the K9s, said it’s important to soothe the dogs during the exercise, considering they are not being hoisted with their own handlers.

“You’ve just got to reassure them,” he said.

K9 Arco wears his sporty sun goggles.
Photo by Jessica Peralta/Behind the Badge OC

Despite the novelty of the situation, most of the dogs seemed excited.

“Whatever we do, we always try to make it pleasurable and fun,” Sheek said. “Their tails are always wagging.”

Orange County Sheriff’s Department Deputy Gerry McCann walks his dog, Belgian Malinois K9 Falco, up the trail to begin the search and apprehension exercise.
Photo by Jessica Peralta/Behind the Badge OC

Orange County Sheriff’s Department Deputy Gerry McCann prepares his dog, Belgian Malinois K9 Falco, for the hoist exercise with Air Support tactical medic Jim Slikker.
Photo by Jessica Peralta/Behind the Badge OC

An Air Support tactical medic is braced outside of an OCSD Duke helicopter during landing.
Photo by Jessica Peralta/Behind the Badge OC

Orange County Sheriff’s Department Deputy Gerry McCann walks his Belgian Malinois, K9 Falco, back from the helicopter after a successful hoist exercise.
Photo by Jessica Peralta/Behind the Badge OC

Deputy Gerry McCann gives his Belgian Malinois, K9 Falco, a well-earned neck scratch following a successful helicopter hoist exercise.
Photo by Jessica Peralta/Behind the Badge OC

Deputy Gerry McCann sits with his Belgian Malinois, K9 Falco.
Photo by Jessica Peralta/Behind the Badge OC

OCSDÕs Air Support tactical medics in between hoist exercises.
Photo by Jessica Peralta/Behind the Badge OC

Westminster PD K9 Officer Travis Hartman and Belgian Malinois/Dutch shepherd K9 Pako head to the helicopter after a successful suspect search and apprehension exercise.
Photo by Jessica Peralta/Behind the Badge OC

Air Support tactical medics prepare 4-year-old black Belgian Malinois K9 Nero for the hoist exercise. This is NeroÕs first helicopter hoist.
Photo by Jessica Peralta/Behind the Badge OC

An Air Support tactical medic carries 4-year-old black Belgian Malinois K9 Nero during his first helicopter hoist.
Photo by Jessica Peralta/Behind the Badge OC

An Air Support tactical medic carries 4-year-old black Belgian Malinois K9 Nero during a helicopter hoist.
Photo by Jessica Peralta/Behind the Badge OC

An Air Support tactical medic carries 4-year-old black Belgian Malinois K9 Nero during a helicopter hoist.
Photo by Jessica Peralta/Behind the Badge OC

OCSD Air Support tactical medics fly off in the Duke helicopter.
Photo by Jessica Peralta/Behind the Badge OC