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Becoming Astro: Military canine turned civilian

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Andrea Posey
  • 1st Special Operations Wing Public Affairs
In April 2011 Astor, a military canine, was unable to complete his training when he became sick and ran into issues with the increased speed of his military working dog graduating class. This forced his retirement from the MWD program and he entered into the law enforcement adoption program.

Once adopted, Astor became "Astro, the narcotic detection dog," according to police Cpl. Charles Pettis, K-9 unit/patrol officer, Fort Walton Beach Police department.

Astro's journey into the police force began with training beside Pettis at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., to transition him from military to the police force.

"Astro and I spent about three months training at Eglin every Monday and Friday," Pettis said. "They put us through the military certification required for their dogs to qualify. Then we came out to the civilian world and passed the civilian version of the qualification."

The difference between Astro working in the military world from the police world is he is not primarily used for apprehension work that he trained for in the military, according to Pettis.

"The military is more free with their dogs, because they are used in a war zone and on military installations," Pettis said. "[Local police departments] have to follow the constitutional amendments to keep from violating human rights."

Along with his duties as a narcotic detection dog, Astro serves at community events to introduce the K-9 units to the public, according to Pettis.

Astro was busy with several events in October, including dog park openings, a clothing drive and a Halloween night event where he interacted with adults and children.

"I am very happy with him," said Pettis. "He's finding a lot of narcotics and is a great social dog. I don't think we could have asked for a better dog."

Fort Walton Beach police Capt. Tom Mhez, Patrol Division Commander, says the police force appreciates the military's adoption program and what it offers, because budget constraints resources are limited for the purchase of canines. Canines can cost $10k to $75k for one dog, depending if the dog has been trained or not.

The military and local police work together if an explosive device was found and military dogs were needed, also for training purposes, according to Mhez.  Fort Walton Beach police department invites Air Force security forces to come and train when they are participating in active shooting training. This training is usually held twice a year.

As for Astro's future endeavors, the police station wants to visit schools with him.

"We've talked about starting a program for the elementary schools, kind of like Drug Abuse Resistance and Education or DARE, but focus on the canine and drug detection," Mhez said.

Astro will be the soft face of the police force to teach the kids about drugs and policy so they will remember the message, according to Pettis.