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Reservists train with man's best friend, suspects worse nightmare

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Brandon L. Rizzo
  • 916th Air Refueling Wing
Personnel from the 916th Security Forces Squadron here attended a K-9 familiarization class presented by 4th Fighter Wing SFS during the unit training assembly on December 2.

"Ralph," a Belgium Malinois and a military working dog with the 4th SFS, showed off his speed, power and intelligence during the presentation.

Ralph and his handler, Senior Airman Jesse Hall, demonstrated various commands with Ralph, while 4th SFS's kennel master, Tech Sgt. Ryan Feltz, presented background information and answered questions from squadron members.

"The purpose of the demonstration is to familiarize our people with other aspects of the career field," said Staff Sgt. Brittany M. Paus, the 916th SFS training noncommissioned officer-in-charge. "There are times when we work side by side with K-9, either on deployments or while on active duty. A lot of our training is by book or in the classroom; so once in while we like to get hands-on training. It's something different, and it's definitely an adrenaline rush."

Later, 916th SFS members took turns familiarizing themselves with Ralph's mandibular might by wearing a protective sleeve and letting him latch on to their arms.

Having unfamiliar personnel on the receiving end of these pups' pearly whites creates a training advantage for the dogs and their handlers.

"It keeps the dogs unfamiliar with the suspects while performing drug detection and attacking," said Sergeant Paus. "Usually the K-9 handlers are acting as the suspects and the dogs end up expecting the bites. When a new individual is trained and acting as the 'suspect,' the dogs can't automatically assume what is happening, because the individual is unfamiliar to them. This is more realistic for the dog. It helps the handlers control the dogs' behavior when performing their bites with a new person or suspect."

A military working dog's day is not limited to catching fleeing suspects, however.

Police dogs are intimidating and a deterrent, said Sergeant Feltz. They help protect the officers.

Most dogs are cross-trained, so they can search for everything from narcotics, contraband and explosive devices, to people.

"They conduct vehicle searches inbound and outbound at the gates and parking lots," said Sergeant Feltz. "They do building searches and checks, area searches and checks, and random patrols through base housing and other areas on base."

The dogs learn to detect scent trails on the ground left by people. They can also detect scent "cones" in the air that flow downwind from a person. Air scenting is important not only in locating suspects, but also in determining if they have circled back to ambush the officer. Dogs have been known to detect scent cones as far away as a half mile.

Military working dogs don't just perform these duties stateside; they also deploy.

"Getting a dog used to the new environment is the hardest part," said Sergeant Feltz. "It is easier to get a dog to adjust to a new handler than a new environment."

During deployments, the Air Force uses dogs to help the Army conduct raids, cache sweeps, base entry control points, random anti-terrorism measures, and route clearance for convoys, said Sergeant Feltz.

"They do pretty much anything that deals with explosive detection or detaining suspects," said Sergeant Feltz. "They also search all incoming mail and conduct explosive sweeps for all distinguished visitor personnel, to include U.S. and foreign leaders."

Due to their drive and intelligence, the military uses mostly Dutch Shepherds, German Shepherds, and Belgium Malinois for police work. German shepherds, due to their longer coat, tend to be used more in colder climates than warmer areas like North Carolina or the in the desert, said Sergeant Feltz.

The breed of the dog does vary, depending on the dog, said Feltz.

"The Navy uses Jack Russell Terriers for detection on submarines, due to their small size and ability to fit into tight places," said Sergeant Feltz.

Military working dogs first entered the service in 1942 to serve in the Army's K-9 Corps, according to the DefenseLink website.

Rumor has it that since the military uses letters and numerals to identify their different departments - for example S-1 for administration - someone thought it would be clever to use K-9 to identify the military working dog units due to the analogy to "canine." The term stuck and is now used to identify police and military dog units throughout the country.

Today, military working dogs have service record books assigned to them, and some even receive rank.

According to the DefenseLink website, nearly 4,000 dogs were employed by the military during the Vietnam War.