An Airman's best friend

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Rebecca R. Imwalle
  • 28th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
It is said that a dog is a man's best friend. Military working dog handlers from the 28th Security Forces Squadron take this to another level, understanding that building and maintaining a strong bond with their canine partners ensures mission success and can sometimes be the difference between life and death.

Adding to the pack of four-legged defenders Ellsworth already has, the 28th SFS recently received two additions to their elite military working dog program; Batu and Nnicholas.

Staff Sgt. John Whisman, 28th SFS MWD trainer and handler, explained that no matter what type of MWD, they all go through intensive training at Lackland Air Force Base, San Antonio, Texas, before being assigned to their first duty station.

"These dogs go through 90 to 120 days of training at Lackland," Whisman said. "This is a mixture of basic obedience training, bite work, search training and detection."

Once the dogs are received at the base, they have roughly 75-90 days to acclimate the dogs to the new environment, participate in rapport training with their handler, and conduct various search and patrol work. Still, after all additional training, they must ultimately pass the qualifications set by the kennel master and the SFS commander.

"It is very important to train frequently with our dogs," Whisman said. "Training helps us build unity, which becomes apparent once action arises. The true test of a bond between the canine and the handler is when you are faced with combat."

The relationship between an MWD and their handler goes beyond executing the mission. Staff Sgt. Brian Turney, 28th SFS MWD handler, explains how crucial it is to maintain a partnership based on trust.

"We trust them with our lives and they trust us in return," Turney said. "Our MWDs are not only our partners, but our friends."

Turney explained how they must also know and understand their dog, as each one has a unique personality. While they are on patrol and searches, there can't be a shadow of a doubt that their canines will respond exactly how they've been trained.

"Our dogs perform searches at the gates for explosives and narcotics," Turney said. "They also patrol the dorms and other various locations on base. These areas are randomly selected, and we try to cover all the different areas on base."

Dogs in narcotics detection are trained to recognize five odors, and dogs in explosives detection are trained to recognize ten. Due to the difference in the odors, once a dog is trained to be a narcotics dog, they cannot be trained to detect explosives, and vice versa.

"Our dogs have great heightened senses for detection that complement the skills we have," Turney said. "A canine and their handler create a powerful duo, so if one misses something, there is a good chance the other will see it."

Dogs are a powerful tool used by the 28th SFS, tough enough to handle intense weather conditions; providing a vital role to the mission and keeping the base safe throughout any season.

"We use a lot of psychological deterrence," Turney said. "We do demonstrations so that people are able to see what the dogs are capable of. We want voluntary compliance with the law; once people see what they can do, dog teams can really help stop problems before they are created."

Much like any other Airman, MWD teams can deploy at a moment's notice. More specified training is provided to each team to help with areas they are not as strong in to ensure mission success.

Canine teams work with the South Dakota Army National Guard, much like many other Airmen on base. This helps familiarize them with unique conditions presented in joint-service environments they could encounter while deployed. The SDNG also offers training possibilities not available at Ellsworth
"With the help of the [South Dakota National] Guard, we provide helicopter training once a month for each dog team," Whisman said. "We use this for deployed locations. Helicopters are used frequently downrange, and the dogs must adapt to it prior to deployment to ensure maximum capability. With this training, they are already aware of what is going on and are able to jump right into work."

Whisman explained that the training can be tiring for both the dog and the handler. He added that a day doesn't go by without training, which ensures they can perform at maximum capability with minimum setbacks.

"These dogs are a vital part of what we do," Turney said. "We work hard to ensure MWDs work to their best capability, and we make sure to care for them. You can learn a lot from these dogs; sometimes they even end up carrying us."