DYESS AIR FORCE BASE, Texas (AFNS) -- (This feature is part of the "Through Airmen's Eyes" series on AF.mil. These stories focus on a single Airman, highlighting their Air Force story.)
The shop is full of constant howling, bones and bouncy balls scattered on the floor, and a pungent smell. The king of this domain is a four-legged creature that lies on a couch and greets people with a slobbery lick.
It's just another day for Staff Sgt. Andre Hernandez, a 7th Security Forces Squadron military working dog handler, and his black, thick-haired German shepherd MWD, Ivan.
Hernandez has been a handler at the Dyess Air Force Base kennels for three years. He started out as every other defender does, performing normal security forces jobs like checking identification cards at the front gate and conducting routine patrols around base. In 2010, he attended his 7-level training school and then K-9 training at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas.
"In order to become a handler, I had to apply for a retrain, ensure I had adequate enlisted performance reports, recommendations from my leadership and a physical exam," Hernandez said.
Only a select few get the opportunity to work with canines in the Air Force. Hernandez has always been a fan of man's best friend and said he is grateful for this opportunity.
"What really made me want to be a handler was how well trained the military working dogs were and the amount of obedience they have," Hernandez said. "I always loved dogs and actually getting paid to work and train them every day is very rewarding."
Most of his days are spent training on their course, working on commands and obedience, providing security and explosive and narcotic deterrence for the base. When tasked to deploy, the pair takes on a different mission.
"While at home station the mission is more focused on security, law enforcement, explosive and narcotic deterrence, locating suspects and educating the public through demonstrations," Hernandez said. "While deployed, my mission is to provide counter improvised explosive device and narcotic protection to the U.S. and coalition forces and we have the capability of locating high value targets or suspected personnel."
Hernandez and Ivan received special training at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas. Once their training was complete, they deployed to an undisclosed location for the first time together.
"When deploying we go through a specialized training course at a regional training center," Hernandez said. "The training received ultimately depends on the environment we will be operating in."
While deployed, special precautions are taken to ensure Hernandez and Ivan can efficiently accomplish their mission.
"One of the most important things we make sure of is that we have adequate living conditions for the canine," Hernandez said. "They also ensure we have proper heating or air conditioning depending on the environment we are going to."
Although this is his first time deploying with his current dog, Hernandez has been on many other missions throughout his career.
"I went on a USSS (U.S. Secret Service) mission to Natal, Brazil, Guatemala City (Guatemala) in support of the vice president and for the FIFA World Cup," Hernandez said.
When deployed, or on any type of mission, the canine is always with their handler. Ivan is Hernandez's wingman. By being together at all times, the handler and their dog create a remarkable bond.
"Having a good bond with my dog is one of the most important things I want as a handler," Hernandez said. "At the end of the day, we are a team and working together is what makes us an effective threat to our enemies."
Although handlers are taught at the same school, each one has their own way of building a good rapport with their military working dog. Just like people, no dog is the same, and it's important for handlers to know that as they can have different canines throughout their career.
"I have had five dogs throughout my time as a handler and patience and consistency in my opinion are very important," Hernandez said. "Setting a schedule and sticking to it gives the dog something to look forward to every day. Building that strong rapport also builds trust. Most importantly, I always try to play with him and let him be a dog."
Working outside, getting a little dirty, teaching and training man's best friend every day, Hernandez said he is living his dream.
"Staff sergeant Hernandez is very knowledgeable when it comes to training and understanding military working dogs," said Staff Sgt. Timothy Castillo, the 7th SFS kennel master. "He has already passed many handlers and continues to strive to be the best. In one word -- he's suave."