The Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT) is an annual event, held at RAF Fairford. Hosting 245 types of aircraft from 25 different nations, allowing members of the public exposure to the different aircraft and showing them the capabilities of the different Air Forces across the world.
Security is always at the forefront during these events, ensuring the safety of the public is paramount; the use of RAF Military Working Dogs (MWD) is quintessential in achieving this. Two types of search dogs were used during the build-up to the event and the event days themselves. Our Vehicle Search (VS) Dogs and their handlers were positioned at the trade and vendor entry point working alongside Avionic Technicians Trainees and Avionic Mechanics Trainees, searching all vehicles that required access. The second type was our Arms & Explosive Search (AES) Dogs. They were used to search the hospitality and VIP areas throughout the event and also mucking in with the VS dogs to help lighten the load on hot days. The AES teams were Sgt Thomas and MWD Back, Cpl Butler and MWD Johnny; Cpl Parton (Dolly, for obvious reasons) with MWD Rui and Cpl Plant (Planty) dual handling both specifications with MWD Bruce for AES and MWD Archie for VS. The VS teams were Cpl Greenfield with MWD Beano and Cpl Sillence with MWDs Ash and Pip. Cpl Gale and MWD Archie were due to assist with VS for the week, but after a day or 2 Archie became lame so returned to RAF Brize Norton for some much-needed rest.
The week building up to RIAT saw temperatures rise, which each handler had to take into consideration when working their dogs to ensure their welfare needs were met. At the 2018 RIAT event the volunteering cadets generously surrendered their paddling pool to the dogs and this year was no different, it was as if the dogs remembered! MWD Beano is incredibly fond of water and can sniff it out a mile off! Once he had finished his shift on the controlled entry point, Cpl Greenfield knew without fail where he was heading to next. Not only did the pool provide an oasis for the dogs to play and recuperate, it also guaranteed fond affection from the cadets who kindly allowed the dogs free rein, sharing their rest area. MWD Ash was not as convinced by the water, so as handlers, we needed to find other ways to keep him cool. Some of these included ‘stylish’ cooling jackets; however, behaving like a pouting child, he reluctantly wore one of these for a while before having a little sulk - most likely worried what the public would think of him! The air-conditioned vans were his preferred choice when it was his turn to rest.
The entry point at RIAT provides the handlers and their dogs with an array of vehicles, allowing exposure they may not regularly encounter; opportunities for the dogs’ continuation training (CT) was plentiful. CT is also a great tool to keep the dogs focused and engaged throughout the intense week. When some vehicles had been searched, permission was sought from the owner to place a training aid in a location unbeknown to the handler. The dog is then instructed to ‘seek on’, carrying out their search and locating the hidden training aid before giving a positive indication. Upon successfully finding the training aid, the dog is then rewarded with their favourite toy allowing them to play and parade with what they have rightfully earned; thus, alleviating boredom and rewarding them for a job well done.
Coaches provide a more varied search opportunity for the dogs. They allow a greater challenge to the dogs as they negotiate between the seats and search the luggage holds. Finding the training kits hidden at height on a coach is challenging, requiring a lot more concentration and focus from the dogs. This continually keeps them engaged and their drive to work is at its greatest.
Operating during RIAT provides numerous opportunities to work alongside other trades and meet Military personnel from all over the world. Very few taskings allow MWD Handlers the same exposure all at one event. VIPs were also present at the Air Show; Honorary Gp Capt Carol Vorderman and her daughter made an appearance… Cpl Matthew Butler was seemingly quite smitten with this particular guest. The dogs were also taking advantage of making friends with the public. Pip with her curly-crimped-crazy-fringe gained a lot of attention from the vendors passing through, one particularly generous vendor gifted her with a Red Arrows rubber duck. I can tell she loves it, as she has allowed it to keep its head!
Working RIAT is a great opportunity for handlers to work with MWD teams from other units across the RAF Police, meeting people they may not usually encounter. This created the chance to share knowledge, ideas and experiences, which helps everyone to improve their skills and techniques, exposing each other to different training viewpoints. It also gives the dogs an opportunity to socialise with each other, Archie took a shine to Beano and by the end of the week they had a budding friendship.
Fortunately, with a large pool of handlers allocated to this task, it meant that working as a team was easily achievable. The hot weather forced us to rotate the dogs regularly ensuring both they and their handlers were sufficiently rested. Everyone worked seamlessly around each other, enabling a dog team to always be present on the control entry point and all handlers demonstrated excellent professionalism and teamwork throughout. This year was Cpl Greenfield’s first RIAT task and allowed her to hone her skills as a VS Handler, receiving welcomed advice from the more experienced members of the team. Working alongside experienced handlers such as Cpls Plant, Butler and Parton enabled Cpl Sillence to observe the AES handlers and watch them work, gaining heaps of knowledge ahead of her AES course later this year.
Once the week had come to an end all dogs were treated to a well-earned rest, while the handlers took the opposite approach and rewarded themselves with a trip to the RIAT afterparty! The entire week was a fantastic experience, which I would encourage all VS and AES handlers to volunteer for in the future.