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Working dogs, handlers dynamic duo for base defense

Senior Airman Daniel Alvarez, 380th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron military working dog handler, and his MWD, Lola, search for explosives or narcotics in a warehouse at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia Aug. 8, 2013. The training was designed to test the MWD’s senses for detecting explosives or narcotics in different quantities. Alvarez and Lola are deployed from Moody Air Force Base, Ga., and Alvarez calls Northridge, Calif., home.

Senior Airman Daniel Alvarez, 380th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron military working dog handler, and his MWD, Lola, search for explosives or narcotics in a warehouse at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia Aug. 8, 2013. The training was designed to test the MWD’s senses for detecting explosives or narcotics in different quantities. Alvarez and Lola are deployed from Moody Air Force Base, Ga., and Alvarez calls Northridge, Calif., home.

Mayo, 380th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron military working dog, bites on his reward given to him by Staff Sgt. Justin Lopez, 380th ESFS MWD handler, after searching for explosives or narcotics during training in a warehouse at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia Aug. 8, 2013. The training was designed to test the MWD’s senses for detecting explosives or narcotics in different quantities. Lopez and Mayo are deployed from Luke Air Force Base, Ariz.

Mayo, 380th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron military working dog, bites on his reward given to him by Staff Sgt. Justin Lopez, 380th ESFS MWD handler, after searching for explosives or narcotics during training in a warehouse at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia Aug. 8, 2013. The training was designed to test the MWD’s senses for detecting explosives or narcotics in different quantities. Lopez and Mayo are deployed from Luke Air Force Base, Ariz.

SOUTHWEST ASIA (AFNS) -- Deploying in pairs, military working dogs and their handlers share a bond exclusive to their career field; each directly dependent upon each other to accomplish the mission. This bond is strengthened in a deployed environment keeping the 380th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron military working dog teams focused on improving their capability. A capability that provides an extra level of protection for the members of the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing and every person visiting the installation.

"In a new environment, a handler and his dog learn more about each other's strengths and weaknesses," said Staff Sgt. Joseph Serrano, 380th ESFS military working dog handler. "A dog can see, hear, and smell things that humans cannot, making them an important member of the security forces team. While deployed, we face new challenges making both of us better. "

MWDs can be trained to smell anything from money to narcotics, to recognize hostile actions and to act appropriately in these situations. Intense heat, long days and new surroundings test these abilities unlike back at home station, said Serrano.

Every morning, handlers arrive an hour before their shift to perform health and welfare checks on their dogs. They warm up together with a stretch and jog, and hit the road for patrol.

MWDs and their handlers patrol for several purposes, said Staff Sgt. Bruce L. Martinez Jr., 380th ESFS kennel master. They provide real and psychological deterrents for any person who might have malicious intentions.

Throughout the day, the teams could be faced with several different types of missions under a wide-array of conditions. From working at a vehicle search area to providing security for visiting dignitaries or the U.S. Navy, MWD teams are always on the move.

"The MWD teams enhance the protection capability of any security operation," said Martinez. "Their job is to identify threats or alert the presence of danger where human sight, hearing or smell couldn't. This is why the handler will always put the needs of the MWD first, because they are the ones who alert the handler."

The needs of the MWDs are not always easily met; they must be trained, fed, provided medical care and monitored by their handlers.

"Dogs can be like children, they depend upon someone else for care," said Serrano, a father of two. "At the same time, you get to see them grow, progress and get better at what they do."

Growth and progression mainly come through training. During the day, when MWD teams are not needed elsewhere, they train. From bite drills, to testing the dog's senses for explosives or narcotics, the 380th ESFS handlers keep their dogs busy.

By the end of the day, handlers and MWDs are typically exhausted. However, having each other makes everything a little bit better, said Serrano.

"It's more of a passion than a job," said Serrano. "In a deployed location, we can devote 110 percent to our dogs because there are no distractions outside of the mission and knowing your dog has improved throughout the day is a great reward."

The reward is shared for a long time, as handlers and their MWD will travel back to their home stations together and continue their relationship.

"The relationship between a MWD and their handler is truly hard to put into words. It is a bond that is very hard to break," said Martinez. "It's a lifestyle, it takes effort, but it makes a difference in your dog and in turn benefits the mission."