Military working dog handlers make up a small niche in the security forces career field. The handlers strictly work with K9s to provide security to military installations. Some of the main duties for the MWDs, as well as the handlers are detection and patrol.
“We try to be out and as visible as possible,” said Staff Sgt. Sean Mckenna, 355th Security Forces Squadron military working dog handler. “One of our biggest assets is psychological deterrence.”
The MWDs go through training just like their handlers, where they learn how to locate narcotics and explosives as well as learning how to subdue possible enemies. As for the handlers, they go through a three-month technical school where they learn how to train and take care of their dogs.
D-M’s handlers have a little bit of a challenge being stationed in Tucson. The heat means the trainers must be even more attentive to the dogs, so they don’t suffer from dehydration or any other heat-related illnesses. However, Mckenna sees the climate as an advantage.
“I believe it is in our benefit to work and live in this heat,” Mckenna said. “It requires less of an adjustment down range for us than it would for a team from North Dakota.”
Being a MWD handler is one of the more unique jobs in the Air Force, because of the unusual work requirements. To become a handler an Airman must be a security forces defender, more than halfway through their enlistment and be at least a senior airman.
Once accepted for the job, Airmen may only be handlers until they reach the rank of technical sergeant. Some Airmen will have the opportunity to become a kennel master after being promoted, but the majority will go back to their previous jobs.
Mckenna believes those strict requirements are one of the main reasons the career field is critically manned.
“Some Airmen are hesitant when it is time to decide between applying for this job or separating and pursuing a civilian law enforcement career,” Mckenna said. “If they wait too long, they miss the opportunity to be a handler.”
Although the job may only last a few years, it is an opportunity to gain experience while still being able to serve and protect.