Military Working Dogs train at Kandahar Airfield

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Stephen Hudson
  • 451st Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
His nose is working overtime. Seeking and scanning the dirt for the unseen. Aaron, a military working dog, and his handler, Staff Sgt. Larry Harris, work their pattern back and forth, while Harris gives Aaron's long leash slack letting it drag it the ground. Harris gives his commands of "seek" followed by words of praise.

The teams have already walked several miles from the kennels to the training site while Army Staff Sergeants Daniel Turner and Joshua Parker have buried several training aids along a dirt road. This day, the dogs, while working with their handlers, will seek out the training aids that simulate improvised explosive devices. For the next five to six months their mission is to save lives by finding roadside bombs and other explosives.

Once the training aids are discovered there is a reward -- Harris hands over a blue rubber toy. It signifies a job well done, but the reward is short lived. It's back to work for Aaron because there is one more to find before the exercise ends. He is one of four MWDs running through a battery of scenarios early in the morning here before the sun's heat becomes unbearable.

What they do is vitally important yet terribly dangerous. While seeking out explosives is deadly serious work for the handlers and dogs, their work is priceless to those they work to protect.

"Soldiers love having dogs out there, and they are an irreplaceable asset," said Turner. "When it's nature over high tech machines -- nature is going to win every time."

Turner, a handler since 2003, works training and evaluating the teams coming through Kandahar Airfield. He relies on his dog's superior smell.

"When we smell a hamburger, we smell the whole thing. The dogs can smell each component of that burger from the meat, the cheese, and the rest," he said.

Since World War II the military has embraced using dogs in a variety of combat roles, and the job of sniffing out explosives is at the heart of what the dogs can do.

Tech. Sgt. Matthew Mosher, who is stationed at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, sat in the shade roughhousing with his German shepherd, Zix, and talked about the mission of canine. Zix puts his head down nudging Mosher to pet him more.

"What we are doing is back to the roots of canine -- leading combat foot patrols," said Mosher, an Orrville, Ohio native, and handler for five years. "This is what we are intended to do."

Zix, and the other three dogs running through these early-morning drills are patrol explosive detection dogs. These dogs and their handlers are passing through and work a schedule of six days a week of two-a-days. The dogs and their handlers live and work side-by-side honing their skills through the joint military working dog kennels at Kandahar Airfield; where teams rotate in and out on a constant basis. The teams train to acclimate to the terrain and weather, and for validation -- a process that can take two weeks to 30 days. This place is the hub for all dogs for regional command-south.

Once the validation process was over, the teams are sent from Kandahar Airfield to forward operating bases around Afghanistan, where they will work for five to six months.

"Our ops tempo is high," said Mosher, who is on his third canine deployment.

As Harris and Aaron join Mosher and Zix in the shade after their turn, Staff Sgt. Chris Wall and his 4-year-old Malinois, Glenn, make their way down the dirt path. Sniffing and seeking, Glenn works his pattern and Turner offers words of advice to the handler to improve their technique.

All of the teams are working well and it won't be long that the training is replaced by actual missions. These dogs, and their handlers, will be the running missions seeking out explosives before they can kill. These dogs are trained to save lives and that is not lost on those who depend on them most.

"Whenever they (Soldiers on the ground) have a dog, it lessens their chance of getting blown up," Harris said.