Vandenberg K-9 team is vital part of Manas' security

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Phyllis Hanson
  • 376th Air Expeditionary Wing
The Manas military working dogs unleash loyalty, determination and stamina as security forces shields.

They serve as constant companions to their handlers, shouldering the brunt of danger during peace and war. With built-in radar, they are able to smell out trouble that no human or manmade device can.

During Police Week, May 10 through May 16, civilian and military police members are recognized for their contributions and sacrifices to keeping the peace and defending the country.

During this special week, four-legged crime fighters are honored as well, because in the working dog handlers' hearts, the term 'man's best friend' is not a cliché.

"Some people perceive that the handler's job is to hold the dog's leash and command them to attack a perpetrator," said Staff Sgt. Benjamin Collins, who is assigned to the 376th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron Military Working Dog Flight. "Our job is a lot more involved than that for sure."

"Being a military working dog handler is like being a parent," said Sgt. Collins. "The dogs need care and attention as much as any child." said the MWD handler who is deployed from 81st SFS at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., and is partnered with Densy, a Belgian Malinois.

"We have to be in tune to our dogs in every way - everything from knowing their temperature to their temperament," said Sgt. Collins. "These dogs are like humans in that they have good days and bad days, too. It's up to us to know the signals."

"When dogs go to Afghanistan, Iraq or any combat zone, they can suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder same as many service members," said Sgt. Collins. "Dogs today serve about eight years. It used to be 10 to 12 years, but today it is less because so much work has been demanded from them these past few years."

The MWD handlers and the flight's trainer work together one-on-one on a daily basis at Manas, with the objective of making the teams as proficient as possible.

"At Manas, the pace doesn't put as high a demand on them as in the combat zone, so we take advantage of the time here to train more intensely, thus improving the dogs' behavior and giving the handlers a chance to thrive and be the best at what they do," said Sgt. Collins.

Generally, the military uses the German Shepherd and Belgian Malnois as the preferred breeds because of their intelligence, maneuverability, speed, aggressive athleticism and their keen senses.

"These dogs are very smart, so the training has to be changed up frequently or the dogs get wise to 'the game' and will make false findings," said Sgt. Collins. "They'll pretend they've found something just to get rewarded with the rubber chew toy or, the 'kong' that we give them when they found a planted training 'explosive.'"

"Working with the military working dogs is an outstanding job," said Joseph Villalobos, a contracted MWD trainer with Northrop Grumman. "Our canine family is tight and the camaraderie is always high."

Mr. Villalobos conducts daily one-on-one training with the K-9 teams, subjecting himself to punishing workouts as the dogs repeatedly attack the padded jacket he wears during each training session. He also helps train the K-9 dogs and handlers from the Kyrgyzstan State Security Service once a week.

On a daily basis, the K-9 teams put in 12-hour shifts, taking turns at the base's security search pit, conducting roaming patrols, and then resuming training back at the MWD compound.

"I love being a handler," said Staff Sgt. Teri Messina. "I got involved with it during my security forces technical school and knew immediately that's what I wanted to do," said the sergeant who is deployed from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.

"I trained with retired dogs at Lackland [AFB, Texas], they are your first partner and teach you everything you know," she said. "They've served their time and they teach you everything they know," said Sgt. Messina, who has been a dog handler for close to two years now.

"Walking with the dog, we become a visible deterrent around the base," said Sgt. Messina, who is originally from truth or Consequences, N.M., and is partnered with a Belgian Malinois named Rico.

When the police recognition week ends, the jobs and dangerous duties of the men and women who serve in this brave realm will continue. Some of those men and women will have the privilege of walking along side a partner of a different kind who will stay by their side and remain loyal to the very end.