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NAS Pensacola Dog Handler team receives two distinct achievement awards

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Story by Gregory Mitchell on 07/10/2019
PENSACOLA, Fla. --- Naval Air Station (NAS) Pensacola's Military Working Dog (MWD) Kennel recently received the distinction of being selected as the 2019 K9 Kennel of the Year for Navy Region Southeast, and Master-at-Arms 2nd Class Petty Officer William Rogacki received the honor of being the 2019 Military Dog Handler of the Year for the region.

"This award was based off of the efforts of personnel from 2018 that were here," said Master-at-Arms 1st Class John Melendez, kennel master at NAS Pensacola. "The kennel master during that timeframe was Master-at-Arms 1st Class Roberto Garcia. It takes a whole kennel to make dog teams and this is what was allowed Master-at-Arms 2nd Class Rogacki to become the number one handler within the region. Through the teams' overall training and mission readiness throughout the entire year of 2018, they were able to develop themselves into the number one kennel in Navy Region Southeast."

Rogacki agreed.

"Receiving the Handler of the Year award is gratifying, but I know there are better handlers out there," said Rogacki. "I am sure that my volunteering for as many assignments as possible contributed to my selection but I would not have been able to receive this award without the support of my peers who have helped me throughout as a handler."

Throughout the course of 2018, Rogacki was a part of security details with the secret service, traveling all over the United States, to include overseas. He worked directly for the Secretary of Defense, the First Lady, Vice President and President.

"It was really exciting to be a part of those assignments," said Rogacki. "It was definitely a valuable learning experience for me."

Rogacki was joined by Lilly, a 6-year old female German Shepherd. He has since moved on to a new partner, a 3-year old male German Shepherd named Fello.

"Connecting with your dog is very important and the bond that you have with them is vital because they feed off of your energy and your emotions," said Rogacki. "Whatever mindset you have, the dog will have. If you are stressed, the dog is stressed. When you are in control, the dog is in control. When a situation appears to get out of control, you have to be calm because you are responsible for yourself and your dog. It's like you are one in the same."

Dog handlers all begin learning their trade as a part of the 341st Training Squadron, located at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio. This is the home of the Defense Department's Military Working Dog Breeding Program, which provides working dogs to every branch of service and numbers among the largest military breeding programs in the world. All master-at-arms attend a nine-week A' School for rate-specific training then either proceed directly to the fleet or on to Dog Handler C' School for 13 weeks. During the course, handlers are taught basic training techniques and how to interact with their canine.

Even though various breeds are used, the favored choices are German Shepherds or Belgian Malinosis. This is due to their overall superior ability to perform a multitude of tasks, consisting of explosive, drug or patrol training, specialized mission functions for the Department of Defense (DoD) and other government agencies.

Dogs are initially acquired from numerous places throughout the United States, to include parts of Europe. They are selected through the procurement process where they test on different abilities that they are able to demonstrate while they are still young puppies. Some of the dogs will "wash out" of training if they do not meet military requirements. For those who are able to complete their certification, they are sent out to the fleet for work.

According to scientific research, a dog's nose possess up to 300 million olfactory receptors in their noses, compared to about six million in us. And the part of a dog's brain that is devoted to analyzing smells is, proportionally speaking, 40 times greater than ours. Because of this, dogs can detect narcotics, explosives, illegal currency, gas leaks, arson accelerants and illegally imported food.

Mendez said that it takes an exceptional individual to be a part of a team that significantly impacts the Navy's mission by working behind the scenes in what he considers to be the best and most rewarding job in the Navy.

"Those guys that are pounding the pavement, they are the ones who don't get recognized and that is definitely a huge part of being a dog handler," said Mendez. "You need to have self-fulfillment and be self-motivated in order to be a dog handler. You don't become a dog handler for fame, trophies and awards; that's not going to come. You do it literary for the challenge. Once you get the knack of it there's no better job in the United States Navy. If you can't fly a fighter jet, there's nothing more self-fulfilling than being a dog handler."

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