Members of Army K-9 units return from a deployment in Iraq, May 5, 2012, at Dover Air Force Base, Del. K-9 units are a valuable resource used for both explosive and narcotic detection in a deployed location. (U.S. Air Force by Roland Balik)
Military working dogs return from a deployment in Iraq, May 5, 2012, at Dover Air Force Base, Del. MWDs go through three months of initial training at Lackland AFB for explosive and narcotic detection. (U.S. Air Force photo by Roland Balik)
Staff Sgt. Erick Martinez, a military dog handler at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, uses an over-the-shoulder carry with his dog, Argo II. This exercise helps build trust, loyalty, and teamwork for Sergeant Martinez and Argo II, who have only been working together for two months (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Allen Stokes)
A U.S. Army soldier, with the 10th Special Forces Group, and his military working dog jump off the ramp of a CH-47 Chinook helicopter from the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment during water training over the Gulf of Mexico (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Manuel J. Martinez)
by Airman 1st Class Kathryn Stilwell
436th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
7/2/2012 - DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. -- According to the Vietnam Security Police Association, during the Vietnam War era, military working dogs and their handler's, were so feared that a bounty was placed on the teams. When the enemy killed a member of the team, they would bring back a tattooed ear as proof of the dog's death and the leash, proof of the handlers.
That fear may still exist in the hearts and minds of those who raise arms against them, but several precautions are taken to ensure these furry service members are well taken care of throughout a typical 180-day deployment.
The MWDs of the 436th Security Forces Squadron undergo 45 days of intensive pre-deployment training before they are sent, along with their handlers, to an overseas location. They go through physical training consisting of eight to ten mile rucks, gunfire desensitization, and the handlers even practice carrying their dogs and handing them off.
"All we do is prepare. When we're not working on the road, we're training. We'll do rucks; do long roadways like we see overseas. We plant drugs, plant explosives. We prepare the dogs for deployments," said Tech. Sgt. Adam Fike, kennel master with the 436th Security Forces Squadron.
Depending on the deployed location, their mission is either explosive or narcotic detection. The dogs and their handlers could clear roadways and buildings for explosives, or concentrate more on a base mission where they search all incoming vehicles.
"It's tough; you have to train for it," said Fike. "You have to watch your dog and have someone you trust watch your back because you can't watch both at the same time."
While men and women wear flak vests, sunglasses, and Kevlar helmets in a deployed environment, these K-9s require protection as well. They wear protective "doggles" over their eyes to shield from dust and sand, "booties" to protect their paws from the unfavorable terrain, and cooling vests to combat the heat. All of the dog's equipment, including food and water, is carried by the handler in a pack which can range from 50-75 pounds.
During deployments, the dogs not only provide security, they also provide reassurance to those within the unit who miss their own dogs at home. Demonstrations are also given to boost the morale at both deployed locations and the home base.
However, despite their devotion to work, sometimes the dogs bring back side effects from their deployment. There can be a degree of stress when it comes to being in a new location, kenneled with new dogs, and surrounded by different people. Here at Dover AFB the dogs are generally rotated to give them a break in between deployments -- time to recuperate just like their human counterparts.
"That's your partner; you're with them every day. They can't wait to see you. They can't wait for you to come and let them out every day. No matter what, we take care of them on a good day, bad day, if they get hurt, we're there for them," said Fike.