The nose knows -- military working dogs complete security forces mission

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Kristina Barrett
  • 506th Air Expeditionary Group Public Affairs

“Get 'em!”

With one swift movement, military working dog Breston is off like a flash, covering the distance between his handler and his target in just a few fluid strides. The reward for his speed and agility is a nice juicy bite.

Of course the juicy bite was just the “bite suit” but Breston, a Dutch shepherd, delivers an impressive 900 pounds of pressure per square inch -- enough to tell any offender he means business and enough to knock a full grown man to his feet.

Breston is one of the eight military working dogs, along with 10 handlers, who are deployed here from the 820th Security Forces Group at Moody Air Force Base, Ga. The dogs, as well as their handlers, support both Air Force and Army missions outside the wire.

“We use the dogs often on our (security forces) patrols,” said Tech. Sgt. Sherrie Conkright, MWD handler and shift supervisor. “In addition, we have Airmen and military working dogs supporting Army missions, too.”

Teams are assigned to the 506th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron and the 101st Airborne Brigade. Because of the extensive work both branches conduct in Kirkuk and the surrounding area, the dogs augment the missions in a way no human can. For these professionals, it’s all about the nose.

“The dogs give us capabilities that far surpass humans in terms of detection,” Sergeant Conkright said. “The dogs senses are significantly more refined than ours and can detect odors better than we can. There are odors that they can smell but we can’t.”

Those odors are the unmistakable scent of explosives. In a place where the next improvised explosive device could be just around the corner, dogs like Breston are force multipliers and keep their humans alive.

“Dogs don’t generalize smells. For example, if a human smells a hamburger, they receive the whole smell in general terms,” Sergeant Conkright said. “A dog smells the parts of the burger individually -- the bun, the condiments and the burger.”

Their unique ability to separate odors alerts them to different dangers, which leads to a more proficient and quick search, she said. This is especially important when stepping outside the safety of the base.

“They support the missions we do here in both mounted and dismounted patrols outside the wire,” Sergeant Conkright said. “They travel with mounted patrols and when needed, are able to search various locations. For an unmounted patrol, they are a show of force in foot patrols throughout the city.”

Two of the MWDs here are a little different, but unnoticeable until they are let off the leash. They are called specialized search dogs, and they are trained to work “off leash” during patrols and other actions. They have the ability to work up to 200 yards away from their handler.

“The 820th has the only two SSDs in the Air Force and is a test program to find out if there is a benefit in the types of missions we do,” said Master Sgt. Robert Kisner, kennel master. “SSDs are different in the way they approach various situations but have the same basic detection capabilities as MWDs.”

The Army uses the SSD program full-time but because of the differences in the mission, it is unknown how these dogs fit into the Air Force mission. For now, the future of the program is still being tested in the field.

Staff Sgt. Ethan McCants, MWD handler, whose dog Edo is a traditional explosive search dog, is sure that dogs save lives.

“He can smell things we can’t, which allows us to back off and call (the explosive ordnance disposal flight) to do the job necessary,” he said. “He gives a better sense of safety to do the job we need to do because he knows.”