Keep running - Don't look back
By Staff Sgt. Alexandra M. Boutte, 386th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
/ Published August 02, 2012
SOUTHWEST ASIA -- Effective communication, training and hard work is required for a bond to form between canine and its handler. Additionally, extra time and effort helps prepare the dogs for real-world scenarios through various exercises.
The Military Working Dogs in the 386th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron work alongside their handlers searching buildings and sniffing for drugs, explosives and crime suspects.
The primary mission for MWD is providing protection capabilities for base personnel and assets.
"The dogs add a force multiplier," Tech. Sgt. David Wilson, 386th ESFS, noncommissioned officer, MWD section, said. "We have extra capability at the gates and an extra layer of security here."
Like many Airmen who go through basic training, these dogs attend a basic training of their own with the 341st Training Squadron, also at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas.
Airmen go through eight weeks of training, but certification of training these dogs could take months. After graduation, they receive a number, similar to security forces badge number.
They may be out of initial training, but their education continues.
"We want to make them better dogs; from day one, handlers train with their canine every day," Wilson said.
A dog's brain is specialized for identifying scents. The percentage of the dog's brain that is devoted to analyzing smells is actually 40 times larger than that of a human. Dogs can identify smells somewhere between 1,000 to 10,000 times better than nasally challenged human companions can.
When a dog detects an odor it has been trained to recognize, the dog can indicate a passive response allowing the dog to keep its distance from the suspected object.
"It is more of a heads-up," Wilson said. "It is better than a human digging around trying to find something."
Before a deployment, handlers and their companion are required to go through a rigorous refresher training course.
The course consists of dogs identifying mass odors and different sights. Patrol training has the dog find a "bad guy" and reviews "bite" techniques, building searches and detecting an intruder in a field.
Foundation of dog training is obedience. The obstacle course is used for that reason, Wilson explained.
"Most people fail to see that," Wilson said. "Obedience teaches the handler and dog rapport. The dog learns to listen to his handler - the handler learns to pay attention to their partner's reaction during each course. If we fail that, we fail the mission."
The importance of the MWD unit has proven themselves out during real-world scenarios explains Col. Joseph Martin, 386th Expeditionary Mission Support Group commander.
"They identify a possible threat before they get on base and they keep a potential hazard away from people," Martin said. "Simply watching in their behavior when the handler and canine connect, they gave me enough confidence to get in there [obstacle course] with them."
And "get in there" he did. Martin suited up in the "bite suit", a training aid used for long distance bite training.
Martin stepped in the fenced area of the MWD facility, ready to face a large, powerful beast.
Tech Sgt. Charles Dalton, the handler on the course that day, had Martin try to run away. But MWD Benga, was not going to let Martin get away so easy.
Martin ran but as soon as the command was called, he felt the dog on his back crushing him to the ground and eliminated any ideas he had of trying to escape.
The bite suit offers different training for different situations. Another aid is the bite sleev. Martin went for the full experience.
"You don't get a sense of urgency when you are the dogs are using your arm as a chew toy," Martin said. "I don't want to say I felt like a criminal but I thought 'this is what a criminal probably feels like when they are being chases by a big, ol' German shepherd.' He knocked me clear over."
Some of these canines are the Airmen's most faithful companions.
Form some Airmen, like Wilson, the hardest part of the job was giving up his first dog.
Wilson was given MWD Tommy after graduating technical school. They trained hard for months before they were tasked for their first deployment.
They traveled, slept and ate side-by side the entire deployment The two were inseparable.
After rotating back home, they barely settled in before they were tasked for another deployment. The two continued the same trend as their first deployment.
However, once he returned, Tommy's leash was given to a new handler.
Within a few days of returning, Tommy was moved to a new trainer, Wilson explained.
When Wilson arrived at the kennels here, he recognized a name and the four-digit number on their wall of canines.
Seeing Tommy's name again allows Wilson to think back on his first dog and the time they spent training each other.
"Just knowing that we were in it together; we had each other's backs," Wilson reminisced. "Having that confidence feels great when we somewhere knowing that our best friend is going to perform and be looking out for you."
Like so many others, the 386th MWD section has some of the most well-trained teams the Air Force hast to offer. And their efforts - the long training and hours of trust and friendship between dog and handler - help keep the team one sniff ahead of the bad guys - providing safety for servicemembers.