Petty Officer 1st Class Nicholas Beane, a K-9 handler with the Coast Guard Maritime Security Response Team, rewards his dog with a chew toy after a training evolution at Joint Reserve Base Ellington, Jan. 25, 2017. March 13 is K9 Veteran's Day, but military working dogs have our respect 365 days a year. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Dustin R. Williams)
At MARCOA Media our mission is to support those who serve. Today, we salute the extraordinary military working dogs who serve our country. These loyal companions have a long history of selflessly serving with the troops.
Here is a glimpse into their lives through their handler’s eyes thanks to the terrific work done by military media.
1.Their Enemy’s Worst Nightmare
K-9 teams carry out either narcotics or explosives detection missions. Teams also perform patrol duties to supplement law enforcement activities. The garrison mission requires all three capabilities. To fulfill its duties, the teams undertake a rigorous schedule of training and utilization, said Sgt. 1st Class William C. Morton.
“These guys train day-in and day-out each week,” said the Soldier, noting canines must constantly train to prevent falloffs in proficiency. “They are required to maintain at least four hours of patrol training (obedience and aggression) per week and four hours of detection training per week whether its explosives or narcotics.”
Certified teams require an additional “96 utilization hours – whether it’s Secret Service, health and welfare, law enforcement or force protection missions – each month,” added Morton.
Batman, one of seven dogs assigned to the 544th Military Police Detachment, is affable and approachable but can be transformed into an aggressor with a single command. (Photo by Terrance Bell)
2. Guardians of the Night
The relationship between an MWD (military working dog) and their handler is unique — and specific to every handler and dog.
“Personally, I look at my dog as a partner at work,” said Senior Airman David, a MWD handler with the 49th Security Forces Squadron. “ … I would trust my dog with my life, and I would hope that he would trust me with his. I don’t see him as a pet. He’s a great dog; he works really well, and I trust him.”
Holloman’s MWDs exemplify the Air Force’s core value of service before self.
“What makes these dogs special is that they do not get paid to do this,” said Staff Sgt. Krystle, a military working dog handler with the 49th SFS. “They do it because we ask them to. They do not get a paycheck, they do not get leave. They do not ask for anything in return.”
Being an MWD handler is a calling that requires patience and resourcefulness. Security forces K-9 units, no matter their station, are a vital asset to the Air Force and the Department of Defense.
Staff Sgt. Jeremy, a military working dog handler with the 49th Security Forces Squadron, and his military working dog, Jacob, engage in a patrol simulation at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico, on Dec. 7, 2016. (Last names are being withheld due to operational requirements. U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Alexis P. Docherty)
With the nine months of winter stifling lush grass and creating a thick frozen environment, handlers get creative in exercising the dense muscles hidden under the thick coats of their “fur missiles.” Bounds of energy press from the souls of these prized Airmen who are ready to protect and serve like no two-legged counterpart can.
“When temperatures plummet, outside activity has to be quick,” said Staff Sgt. Berret Chappelle, a 354th SFS MWD handler. “When I first got to Eielson I asked how we are able to train with it being so cold. Wake laughed and said, ‘Three minutes at a time.’ ”
The nine to 10 K-9s at Eielson are no different than the other hundreds stationed around the world. They need to move more than three minutes at a time.
“We take advantage of every space we can after we make sure we are confident we can function outside,” Chappelle said. “Old buildings, long halls, hangers and every other building become our daily patrol. We do a lot of building sweeps and get creative to expel energy.”
Although the far north creates numerous challenges that may seem insurmountable to an outsider, Chappelle can look at the positives of the daily grind by focusing on the brighter aspects of the environment.
“Have you ever looked at the mountains?” he asks with the assumption the answer is yes, focusing on the beauty of the surrounding mountain range. “Have you ever looked at the mountains hanging out with a dog? Doesn’t get better than that.”
U.S. Staff Sgt. Mathis Williams, a 354th Security Forces military working dog (MWD) handler, takes a break from a patrol with MWD Oopal in the dark at 30 degrees below zero March 7, 2016, at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, while the aurora borealis dances behind them. Military working dogs from Eielson work alongside the human defenders who stand “Ready to go at 50 below” 24 hours a day protecting assets that set atop the world in the U.S. Air Force’s Pacific theater of operations. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Shawn Nickel)
MWDs experience the same adverse conditions as their two-legged counterparts while deployed. Although they wear vests and other protective gear, they are not omitted from danger when threatened.
“There was a time where Ali and I were receiving gunfire,” Sgt. David Macdonald said. “We were out searching in front of the team and all of a sudden I saw rounds hitting the area around him.”
Macdonald immediately dropped to his knee and tried to call him back to his side but, in response, Ali lied down.
“I remember that moment because he’s lying down, looking back at me and wagging his tail like he’s having a good time,” Macdonald said. “I was like ‘Dog, you are getting shot at, come over here.’ If one of the rounds would have hit him, it would have changed everything.”
Macdonald sprinted to a ditch as he called back to Ali; Ali then darted after him.
“He jumped on my chest and was wagging his tail, having a blast,” Macdonald said. “He was having fun. He thought it was a game, but he was really doing his job. Meanwhile, all I hear is rounds zinging by us; rounds all over the place.”
U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. David Macdonald, 19th Security Forces Squadron kennel master, has been a service member since 2005. As a kennel master, Macdonald manages and monitors unit military working dog training. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Mercedes Taylor)
Like all Air Force MWDs, Stella’s career began at Lackland AFB where all dogs go through initial training before being permanently assigned to a unit.
From Lackland, Stella became a part of the 8th SFS at Kunsan, a place she’s called home for the past six years.
Her career, primarily working as a drug detection dog, is now in its final chapter. Stella constantly trains to bite and run scenarios, and that puts a strain on her jaw, legs and body.
She was recently diagnosed with lumbosacral disease, a degenerative disorder that affects the spinal cord and the spinal nerve roots, in September of 2016.
Staff Sgt. Kyle Majorana, 8th SFS MWD noncommissioned officer in charge, was the first to notice Stella had a limp in her leg, prompting him to get her a medical exam. The results confirmed the disease, ultimately putting her on a path to retirement.
“Dogs don’t have voices; we are their voices,” said Majorana. “We have to pay attention to them and work with them .They show you signs; you just have to pay attention. Military working dogs are not equipment (to us). They are family.”
Staff Sgt. Bryan Tarantella, 8th Security Forces Squadron military working dog handler, scratches the head of Stella, 8th Security Forces Squadron military working dog, inside the MWD compound at Kunsan Air Base, Republic of Korea, Nov. 11, 2016. Stella has come to the end of her military service and will be retiring because of lumbosacral disease, which is the degeneration of the joints, spine and compression of the nerves causing lower back discomfort as well as leg pain. Tarantella plans to adopt Stella after her retirement. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Colville McFee)
The 67th Forward Surgical Team conducted training with the military working dog handlers from the 100th Military Working Dog Detachment and the veterinary staff of the Dog Center Europe at Pulaski Barracks, Germany, Dec. 5-14.
The focus of the training was to ensure the team was ready and capable of providing emergency surgical and resuscitative care to military working dogs in a deployed setting.
Forward surgical teams are often the closest asset with surgical capability to the point of injury and can be the difference between life and death for any critically wounded Soldier. In the military, MWDs are treated with the same urgency as any other wounded Soldier although they can present different challenges for surgeons, nurses and medics who are primarily accustomed to human patients.
KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany – Maj. Elizabeth L. Kassulke, an Emergency Room Nurse assigned to the 67th Forward Surgical Team, grimaces as MWD Lion leaps and grabs her sleeve. The MWD handlers of the 100th Military Working Dog Detachment were demonstrating the capabilities of their dogs, Dec. 7. Photo by Maj. Chris Angeles
The Dickin Medal was established in 1943 by the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals, a British veterinary charity, to acknowledge outstanding acts of bravery or devotion to duty by animals serving with the armed forces or civil defense. Since its inception, the medal has been awarded to fewer than 70 animals including horses, pigeons and dogs.
Lucca, a half German Shephard and half Belgian Malinois explosives detection dog, was selected to receive the award for her actions while serving in combat zones in Iraq and Afghanistan.
According to Gunnery Sgt. Chris Willingham, Lucca’s first handler and now adoptive owner, in March of 2012 Lucca and her handler at the time, Cpl. Juan Rodriguez, were leading a patrol in Afghanistan. Lucca was detached from her leash and sent ahead of the Marines to search for explosives with Rodriguez directing from afar. She located one improvised explosive device, but when they began searching for a second, an undetected explosive detonated.
Willingham, a Tuscaloosa, Alabama, native, explained that the explosion injured her front left leg and burned her upper torso. Rodriguez ran past the known IED, applied a tourniquet, and carried Lucca back to the safety of the nearby tree line.
As they would for any other injured Marine, they called for an emergency medical evacuation and Lucca was on her way to advanced medical care in only 10 minutes. The injuries led to the amputation of Lucca’s left front leg, but according to Willingham she has no permanent eye or ear damage.
“The best part is that she has the same personality that she had beforehand,” said Willingham. “For her to be exposed to an IED, to take the injury she suffered, and to still come back with the same personality really speaks to her resiliency, strength and character.”
… By the end of her six-year career, Lucca led approximately 400 patrols and identified nearly 40 IEDs saving countless lives.
“There are a lot of people who didn’t make it home, but thanks to Lucca I was able to get back to my family,” said Willingham. “I owe her everything.”
Of all the patrols Lucca led throughout her service, not a single Marine was injured while following her. Even on the mission that led to her early retirement, Lucca was the only one hurt.
With the threats of explosives behind her, the 12-year-old war hero has settled into retirement at the home of her beloved handler.
— Excerpt from Military working dog receives Dickin Medal for heroism by Lance Cpl. Caitlin Bevel.
Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif. – Lucca, a 12-year-old retired Marine Corps military working dog, visits Camp Pendleton Feb. 29, 2016. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Caitlin Bevel)
Military Working Dog Kanjer was full of life and wonder during his retirement ceremony Jan. 24. Kanjer dedicated 10 years of faithful service to the United States military, eight of those here at Eglin.
During his service he searched over 1,800 hours for explosives in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and six separate United States Secret Service missions.
Maj. Jason Williams, 96th SFS commander, officiated the ceremony and congratulated Kanjer on his service and job well done.
“I hope life after your service to our country will be full of squeaky toys, belly rubs and treats,” he said. “We are truly grateful for all you’ve done and the lives you’ve saved.”
His retirement will be lived out with one of his most faithful friends, Staff Sgt. Jeremy Rice, one of his first handlers, whom he was with for four years. Rice is still an active duty K-9 handler assigned to the 45th Security Forces Squadron at Patrick Air Force Base.
“It only felt natural for (Kanjer) to live out the rest of his days in my home,” said Rice. “He kept me alive in Afghanistan, so the least I can do is spoil him for the rest of his life.”
Kanjer expresses his gratitude to Staff Sgt. Jeremy Rice for his adoption during the military working dog’s retirement ceremony Jan. 23, at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. Rice, an active duty dog handler at Patrick Air Force Base, was one of Kanjer’s handlers for four years. (U.S. Air Force photo/Cheryl Sawyers)