Alpena, Michigan --
With a mission to provide premier training facilities for military and first responders from across the Department of Defense and civilian agencies, you never know who you might see honing their craft at Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center, part of the National All-Domain Warfighting Center in Northern Michigan.
From Oct. 3-6, more than 300 K-9 handlers and dogs from the National Association of Professional Canine Handlers descended upon the CRTC from multiple U.S. states and Canada. Affectionately known as “dog week,” 2022 marks the seventeenth year the NAPCH has come to Alpena as its location of choice for a week of specialized training, networking and tradecraft.
“For the fifth year in a row, we have more than 300 teams here and the training they get is truly second-to-none because the base is so accommodating,” said Terry Foley, NAPCH president. “We are providing anywhere from 15-20 training sites every day, which includes locations on base as well as off-base in the Alpena community.”
Foley says the K-9 handlers keep coming back because of the support and relationships they have in Alpena – not just at the CRTC, but in the local community as well.
“The community experience here is incredible, and especially having off-base sites provided by the county, city, and even the citizens of Alpena, we want to let them know how much we appreciate what they do for us,” he said.
Col. Jim Rossi, Alpena CRTC commander, agrees that “dog week” is always a welcome addition to the training facility’s busy schedule.
“We are really proud to partner with the NAPCH to support their goal of providing an outstanding training opportunity for their handlers and dogs,” he said. “It’s pretty exciting to be a part of this – they’ve been coming here for a number of years and the CRTC has been able to help them attain some really valuable training for their team members and their canines. It’s been an exceptional partnership.”
In addition to advanced training scenarios, the NAPCH provides more than 50 master K-9 trainers to help teams get the most out of their experience at the CRTC. Participants say the event is extremely beneficial for the working dynamic between canines and their handlers.
“We’ve got so many dog teams here, we can put together scenarios that you normally can’t do in your smaller training groups,” said Anthony Stariha, a deputy with the Ottawa County Sherriff’s department. “There’s a world of knowledge with multiple master trainers. You can stay busy all day and do some really valuable activities.”
Stariha’s K-9 is Goos, a 25 month-old German Shepherd who certified at the CRTC in 2021.
“There’s no better job in police work than being a dog handler,” said Stariha. “You’ve got your buddy with you all the time. Goos comes home with me, he goes on vacation with me. You can handle a lot of calls knowing he’s in the car, just a button push away if you need him.”
For Foley, watching the skills of a deputy and his K-9 meld into one very effective tool for public service is “mission accomplished.”
“In our world, there are things that change frequently,” he said. “This is all about lending that top-level expertise to the training and enabling first responders with resources and networking in a way they may not have had before.”