SOUTHWEST ASIA — Deploying in pairs, military working dogs and their handlers share a bond exclusive to their career field; each directly dependent upon the other to accomplish the mission.
This bond is strengthened in a deployed environment, keeping the 380th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron military working dog teams focused on improving their capability that provides an extra level of protection for members of the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing and every person visiting the installation.
“In a new environment, a handler and his dog learn more about each other’s strengths and weaknesses,” said Staff Sgt. Joseph Serrano, 380th ESFS military working dog handler. “A dog can see, hear and smell things that humans can’t, making them an important member of the security forces team. While deployed, we face new challenges making both of us better.”
MWDs can be trained to smell anything from money to narcotics, to recognize hostile actions and to respond appropriately in whatever situation they find themselves. Intense heat, long days and new surroundings test these abilities unlike home station, said Serrano.
Every morning, handlers arrive an hour before their shift to perform health and welfare checks on their dogs. They warm up together with a stretch and jog and hit the road for patrol.
MWDs and their handlers patrol for several purposes, said Staff Sgt. Bruce Martinez Jr., 380th ESFS kennel master. They provide real and psychological deterrents for any person who might have malicious intentions.
Throughout the day, the teams could be faced with different types of missions under a wide array of conditions. From working at a vehicle search area to providing security for visiting dignitaries or the U.S. Navy, MWD teams are always on the move.
“The MWD teams enhance the protection capability of any security operation,” Martinez said. “Their job is to identify threats or alert the presence of danger where human sight, hearing or smell couldn’t. This is why the handler will always put the needs of the MWD first, because they are the ones who alert the handler.”
The needs of the MWDs are not always easily met. They must be trained, fed, provided medical care and monitored by their handlers.
“Dogs can be like children, they depend upon someone else for care,” said Serrano, a father of two. “At the same time, you get to see them grow, progress and get better at what they do.”
Growth and progression mainly come through training. During the day, when MWD teams are not needed elsewhere, they train. From bite drills, to testing the dog’s senses for explosives or narcotics, the 380th ESFS handlers keep their dogs busy.
By the end of the day, handlers and MWDs are typically exhausted. However, having each other makes everything a little bit better, Serrano said.
“It’s more of a passion than a job,” he said. “In a deployed location, we can devote 110 percent to our dogs because there are no distractions outside of the mission and knowing your dog has improved throughout the day is a great reward.”
The reward is shared for a long time as handlers and their MWDs will travel back to their home stations together and continue their relationship.
“The relationship between a MWD and their handler is truly hard to put into words,” Martinez said. “It’s a bond that is very hard to break. It’s a lifestyle, it takes effort, but it makes a difference in your dog and in turn benefits the mission.”