Wingman also Airman's best friend

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Aaron J. Jenne
  • 4th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
He was on duty with his partner. It was their normal routine, suiting up, training and patrolling the streets to keep the men and women of Seymour Air Force Base safe.

Staff Sgt. Alexander Baron, 4th Security Forces Squadron military working dog (MWD) handler, and his partner Kuli, the squadron's newest narcotics dog, responded to one of the base's gates to assist fellow defenders in an investigation of possible drug use.

Kuli checked the vehicle, and his behavior indicated the presence of narcotics scent. Goldsboro Police Department officers searched the vehicle and found remnants of marijuana. Kuli also detected scent near a female passenger, successfully locating 9.2 grams of marijuana in her purse.

"This was our first bust, and we found a considerable amount of marijuana," Baron said. "Kuli and I constantly train for this, and seeing him at work made me swell with pride."

Baron said, busts like this are possible with the hard work of MWD handlers and their dogs, diligently patrolling the installation and protecting its assets.

Baron was paired with Kuli in August, and since then they've trained and strengthened their relationship to build as strong of a bond as possible.

"I have the best job in the Air Force," Baron said. "The best part of the day is waking up, because you get to go to work, and be with your best friend."

Their friendship, Baron said, was forged through long hours working together. Each one trusts the other with his life.

Kuli was trained at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas. There, MWDs learn basic obedience, narcotics or explosives scent detection, patrol, and how to act during a firefight. Each dog must perform both detection and patrol duties in order to graduate training and qualify for an assignment to a military installation.

"Military working dogs pretty much go through basic training and tech school," Baron said. "When they get to their base, they get the on-the-job training. We're given a raw product who knows the bare minimum, and it's up to us to mold and sculpt them into what we want them to be."

MWD handlers train for 11 weeks at JB San Antonio-Lackland after serving half of their first enlistment as security forces members and reaching a five skill level.

"The training is tough," Baron said. "There is a specific way to do everything, even putting on a leash. You learn to be a decoy and to let dogs bite you. There's even a right way to be bit, because if you flinch, it can hurt the dog and it could be afraid to bite."

The finished product is a partner who is loyal, obedient and fully capable of defending the base and his handler.

Dogs are paired with handlers based on personality, said Baron. When he arrived here though, there were no available dogs to pair him with, so when Kuli arrived, the match was made.

This teaming strategy may not be the norm, but multiple MWD personnel said it's working well.

"Usually we try to match new trainers with experienced dogs," said Tech. Sgt. Brent Reimers, 4th SFS kennel master. "A new dog needs an experienced handler because when he's weak in an area, his handler may need to perk him up to get his attention back to what he's doing. It's good when you see a brand new handler and a brand new dog link up and work so well together."

Reimers said Baron and other handlers routinely visit the dogs on their days off, taking time to play and strengthen the friendship.

According to Baron, this integral time spent together builds a cohesion where the dogs react to the mood of their handlers.

"We have a saying: Your thoughts travel down leash," Baron said. "If you're having a bad day, your dog's going to have a bad day too. If you're upbeat and positive, your dog is going to feed off that energy. Our bond is pretty strong right now, but it will only get stronger as our time together progresses. At the end of the day I know that Kuli will do everything in his power to stop someone from hurting me, and I will do the same."

As their relationship grows, Baron and Kuli continue to hone their skills, waiting for the call to put their training to the test. Regardless of the situation, they will deploy, fight and keep the installation safe, as a team ... As best friends.