She’s sweet, then she’s sour
Story by SFC SHAIYLA HAKEEM on 08/28/2019
“She is a lover and she is a sweetheartuntil I tell her not to be.”
Words spoken by U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Kyle Wentz, animal-lover and military working dog (MWD) handler with 332 Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron (ESFS), describing Brenda, a MWD with the unit. The Air Force team demonstrated Brenda’s ability to socialize and interact with the general public without displaying unsolicited signs of aggression. She displayed her obedience, tolerance to human interaction and attack skills at Joint Training Center-Jordan (JTC-J) during her visit Aug. 22, 2019.
Wentz, Brenda’s handler, says she has a good off-on switch and when they are not working, they’re cuddling. He explained that training with Brenda can be time-consuming and there normally is no instant reward, but as with any team, it takes patience and a steady pace.
“Progress isn’t always immediate and can be frustratingsometimes it takes weeks to work on a simple problem,” said Wentz, “but it is nice to see us progressing as a team.”
Just as with any military member, extensive training and skillsets are required for MWDs and not all canines make the cut. Different dogs, based on expertise and temperament, perform different duties. For example, multi-purpose canines, also known as combat assault dogs, work with elite groups such as Navy SEALs.
Similar to many former service members, some MWDs find work in law enforcement after retirement, taking their learned military skills and applying it into the civilian sector. Many are adopted and hang up their military boots to become a family companion. As a long-standing tradition, MWDs are assigned rank, normally one rank higher than their handler. This is representative of their overarching capabilities as the primary team member.
MWDs develop strong bonds with their teammates and an intense level of trust with their handlers. As with any other military member, they can suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and mourn the passing of teammates. Brenda is a 6-year-old German Shepard weighing in at 74-pounds. Her favorite toy is a KONG ball with rope and she finds joy in eating. She doesn’t have any awards to date, but is always putting her best paw forward to earn one. She comes from an ancestry of countless canines who have worked with and died at the side of their military counterparts.
MWDs, also referred to as, “war dogs,” have been working alongside military members since WWI. One service member who made an unforgettable paw-print in history was a stray dog named Stubby. He served in WWI with the 102nd Infantry, 26th Yankee Division and is the most decorated dog to date.
According to the Smithsonian Institution, Stubby learned several military drills, bugle calls and a modified salute with his right paw. His first combat injury was from exposure to poison gas. He survived, but this experience made him hyper-sensitive to traces of gas. During an early-morning attack, Stubby recognized the smell of poison gas and began to bark and bite at Soldiers, alerting them to the danger so they could sound the alarm, saving many from injury. He was also known for his ability to locate injured Soldiers in the trenches of enemy territory. He would listen for the sound of English, go to their location and lead them back to safety. Additionally, Stubby aided in the capturing of a spy by disabling him with an attack bite, which earned him a medal for heroism.
This canine-hero served in 17 battles and was the first dog to be given rank in the United States, according to the Smithsonian Institution. Stubby, died in 1926, but his remains are on display, adorned with his many military medals at the Prince of Freedom: Americans at War at the National Museum of American History, at the Behring Center in Washington, District of Columbia. Stubby’s legacy has also been featured in an animated film, “Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero,” that was released in December 2018.
Many organizations have recently recognized and formally acknowledged the importance of MWDs. On Aug. 1, in honor of current, retired and deceased MWDs, United States Postal Service (USPS) issued the, “Military Working Dogs,” forever stamp featuring the German Shepherd, Labrador Retriever, Dutch Shepherd and the Belgian Malinois. The stamp, “honors the nation’s brave and loyal military working dogs,” according to a USPS statement.
Brenda helps in keeping the tradition of MWDs alive. In current times, the dogs are schooled in more specific areas and go through in-depth training, ready to tackle a multitude of potential scenarios. Readiness is the capability of our forces to conduct the full range of military operations to defeat all enemies regardless of the threats they pose.
U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Bryan Bowermaster, MWD kennel master with 332 ESFS, has been a part of the MWD community for more than eight years. According to him, MWDs provide incredible capabilities such as explosion and narcotics detection as well as physical deterrence. He said the opportunity to visit JTC to display Brenda’s capabilities and explain the MWD program was a very rewarding experience.
“This gives our canine-handlers the opportunity to work with the Army a little more in-depth then what we are used to,” Bowermaster explained, “This now gives them the opportunity to branch out and really embody the path that the Air Force is looking to go to and build on those joint relationships with our fellow sister services.”