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The protectors: working with man's best friend

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Alexxis Pons Abascal
  • 27th Special Operations Wing Public Affairs
*This feature is the first in a series of 27th Special Operations Security Forces Squadron highlights at Cannon.

Part of being in the Air Force means working with and often relying on a wingman or various team members. All Air Commandos stationed at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., must learn to adapt to people from various backgrounds and with different personalities. While some Airmen may go into work and treat their co-workers to coffee, there are others that start the day by treating their partners to a grooming and a game of fetch.

"Daily quality time is one of the main components we establish when working with our dogs," said Staff Sgt. Kenneth Holt, 27th Special Operations Security Forces Squadron military working dog handler. "The time we spend with them is vital in building the trust and partnership necessary to accomplish our mission."

There is a highly skilled K-9 unit stationed at Cannon. The dogs used are typically either German Shepherd or Belgian Malinois.

Military working dogs assigned to the 27th Special Operations Wing are all trained for patrol and detection. They typically accompany their handlers on routine eight-hour shifts for walking patrols, vehicle and building inspections and perimeter checks.

They can locate concealed explosives and contraband, search buildings for suspects, detect intruders and protect their partners. While stationed at Cannon, the K-9 units are responsible for personnel and resources to include the surrounding areas of Clovis and Portales.

"We make everything as safe and pleasant as possible for our partners," said Holt. "All of our training programs are geared toward limiting the stress put on the dogs. If our partners are over-stressed, they can't effectively perform."

Before arriving at their duty assignments, Department of Defense military working dogs go through specialized training at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. Much like Air Commandos going through Basic Military Training, if the working dogs cannot pass in the training time allotted, they do not graduate.

In the event that a MWD does not graduate, but they still have potential given more time and training, they are offered to local law enforcement agencies who can also employ the capabilities they posses.

The K-9 units are trained to detect various odors and seek them out. When they locate what they are searching for, they will signal their handler. Proper locating results in loud verbal and physical praise, along with a rubber chew toy called a Kong.

"The reason we focus so much on building close relationships with our partners is because when we deploy, so do they," said Staff Sgt. Adam Wylie, 27 SOSFS MWD handler. "It's more than just taking another Airman with you, our dogs fully depend on us to keep them safe and cared for at all times."

The MWDs are highly skilled and obedient. They are capable of switching modes from play-time and fetch, to seek, locate and pursuit. They will even protect their handler without command. The reward they are ultimately hoping for is praise and the Kong.

"It all boils down to work ethic, mutual respect and passion for working with these amazing animals," said Wylie. "As handlers we are willing to take on this enormous responsibility of guarding another creature's life aside from our own. Human or not, they've got our backs and we've got theirs!"