Man's Best Wingman: Returning Home from Iraq
Rambo, a patrol and explosive detector dog assigned to the 447th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron, attacks Senior Airman Stephen Hanks, a 447th ESFS military working dog handler, while training on an obstacle course in Baghdad, Iraq, Dec. 9, 2011. For the last six months Rambo and Hanks, have been supporting Operation New Dawn by providing explosive and psychological deterrence. Hanks is deployed from Patrick Air Force Base, Fla and is from Amherst, Mass. Rambo is deployed from Kirtland AFB, N.M.(U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Cecilio Ricardo)
by Master Sgt. Kerry Jackson
321st Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
12/14/2011 - SATHER AIR BASE, Iraq -- Steven and his buddy Geri are American Airmen serving in Iraq. Both alpha males, both relentless and determined to win at all cost; however, they both know there's only one spot for numero uno. But despite all this, they have agreed that no matter what, they'd look out for each other. Wingmen, they are, and completing the mission and both returning home safely is the goal.
Being a wingman is part of the Air Force ethos. It's how Airmen survive. So these two know that despite their desire to be number one, to go at it alone, surviving in these parts would require a concerted effort: Team Work.
Geri is from Germany. Steven, Massachusetts, U.S.A. Both deployed from Patrick Air Force Base, Florida, to Sather Air Base, Iraq, to support Operation New Dawn.
When they received their orders, they were excited about their new assignment and helped each other get ready for the six-month long deployment, strategically checking off a five-page task list of all that needed to be done. Steven undoubtedly did most of the work-- this is, in fact, his third deployment. He knows the in's-and-out's of deploying. It's Geri's first. A rookie, and he knows it. So he humbly, however reluctantly, bowed his head and let Steven take the lead. It wasn't easy, and in his own way, he assured Steven this wasn't a sign of weakness. He was just being a good wingman.
Two months after some intense combat readiness training, Steven and Geri arrived at Sather Air Base in August and were assigned to the 447th Expeditionary Security Forces, where they are responsible for providing security for more than 6,000 service members and senior officials to include a recent visit here by the Vice-President of the United States.
Almost daily, they're out patrolling the base, checking for explosives, rocket propelled grenades and generally just being a physiological deterrent to anyone who might forget who they're dealing with. When it comes to finding explosives, Geri seems to always one-up Steven with his Sherlock-Holmes nose and his sixth sense when it comes to security. It doesn't help Steven, at all, that Geri's also a stocky 3-year-old Belgian Malinois puppy--a proud U.S. Air Force Airman none-the-less, so one-upping Senior Airman Steven William Hanks, his K-9 handler, his friend, and his wing-man, is quite easy.
Over the last three months, while supporting OND, the two have sniffed out some interesting locations to ensure the more than 20, 000 service members that have passed through Sather to redeploy to their home units were safe and could sleep knowing they were being protected.
"It's a great feeling being here doing what we're doing, and we're saving lives and having Geri here with me makes it all worth while, he's my wingman," said Steven. "He's just fun to be around and he's always doing things to make me happy."
The two are always keeping fit because the demands of the job are tough and they must always be ready. Steven trains Geri daily and gives him various explosive-detection scenarios and controlled-aggression training, where a "suspect" is pursued or attacked by Geri. This training is all fun and games for Geri, but he takes it seriously. His game face is always on.
"He really gets a kick out the training and he hates to miss a day," said Steven. "If I'm not out here to give him the training, he get's a little bothered."
One type of training scenario consists of having Geri search for simulated explosives in a vehicle. Geri's reactions upon finding the "planted" scents means he's successfully found the target.
This training is very important for Steven and Geri because they are the first line of defense and play a critical role in ensuring the safety and security of Sather Airmen.
"We've had zero incidents and that's because Geri is such a good dog and great at what he does."
The two are days away from successfully completing their mission and returning home to sunny Florida, after completing five months in Iraq. Most days now are pretty intense and the days are longer but the two buddies always take time to relax and let their tales wag.
"This is a relationship I value and hold in great regard, and Geri teaches me every day what being a wingman is really all about," Steven said.
Steven and Geri will return home safely in nearly five days along with more than 300 U.S. Airmen as part of the U.S. and Iraq 2008 Security Agreement requiring all U.S. service members to be out of Iraq by year's end.