Ruff Mission: Airmen, working dogs keep tight leash on safety

  • Published
  • By David Kellogg
  • 62nd Airlift Wing Public Affairs
Dogs are proving once again to be man's best friend by risking their lives for their country alongside the men and women of the armed forces. 

Canine patriots like Kimbo from the 62nd Security Forces Squadron are busier and more in-demand than ever because they can seek out bombs in Iraq and Afghanistan and help the Army and Marines combat the enemy during off-base patrols, said Staff Sgt. Jason Barker, 62nd Security Forces Squadron kennel master. 

The dogs, with their keen sense of smell, are naturally equipped to find weapons caches, said Sergeant Barker. Additionally, the dogs detect improvised explosive devices along roadways, perform searches in houses and help identify weapons and explosives that enemies may attempt to sneak through checkpoints, he said. 

However, Sergeant Barker said it takes a lot of training before Airmen and their military working dogs are ready to take on such dangerous and lifesaving duties. 

Each of McChord's dog handlers was trained during a 12-week Joint Service technical training school at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. 

Security Forces' senior airmen who have achieved their five skill-level have to submit an application package to enroll in the school. 

Once accepted to the school, during the first few days, Airmen pretend ammunition buckets are dogs, said Staff Sgt. Herb Frost, a 62nd SFS dog handler. "You have to give commands to the bucket like you would to a dog," he said. 

Once the trainees possess the confidence, they are allowed to work with retired military dogs. By working with the retired canines, Airmen learn how to give commands for aggression and for sniffing out drugs and weapons. 

"It's a fun school," said Sergeant Frost. 

Since dogs are social animals and will obediently follow the pack leader, at the school, Airmen learn how to act as the alpha dog, said Sergeant Barker. "The dogs will test you just like a child," he said. "You have to be the alpha." 

After training, when Airmen arrive at their assigned base, they are paired up with a German shepherd or Belgian Malinois, said Sergeant Frost. To get to know each other, the dog and its handler walk together, play together and train together, he said. 

They do this so that when the handler and dog deploy to places such as Iraq and Afghanistan, there are no qualms about being together on a continuous basis, said Sergeant Frost. Since there are usually no kennels in deployed areas, Airmen and their dogs "form a pretty tight bond," he said. Sergeant Frost said that bond is vital because dog handlers and their dogs perform a very important job -- keeping other Airmen safe.