Military News

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Military Working Dog is man's best friend, during peace, war

by Gina Randall
100th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

3/27/2015 - RAF MILDENHALL, England  -- It's said that a dog is man's best friend, particularly while in a deployed location. For Senior Airman Daniel Caldas, 100th Security Forces Squadron Military Working Dog handler from Milford, Massachusetts, while deployed to Qatar, his dog was his lifeline and his companion.

"I've deployed once as a dog team," the Massachusetts native said. "When you deploy, it's just you and your dog. And being six months with each other you grow an unbelievable bond. Being 15 feet behind my dog looking for explosives, it's scary -- but I trust him with my life. At the end of the day it's our job to take that risk; we train to find danger, and more importantly, we trust our partner to alert us to the danger and hopefully we come home safe."

The canines start their career in a similar way to the handler, with extensive training and selection.

"The MWDs initial training starts at Lackland Air Force Base," the handler explained. "The Department of Defense procures them for the program, the training they go through is similar to ours -- they go through basic training. The MWD Dog Training School experts teach, train and inspect the dogs drive in order to capture and capitalize on them. Upon the dog's initial certification, they ship them out to their respective bases to start their new life serving their country. The ages range from 2 to 3 years old at that time."

For the dog, that base becomes their home and the handlers their family.

"Each dog, when they come out of training, is assigned to a base," Caldas said. "Only the handlers move around and change station. At my last base, I deployed with my dog. When I returned, I moved bases and he remained there."

Each dog is assigned their own handler, to ensure they are given the best care and training.

"When the MWDs are assigned to their base, one sole handler at a time is assigned to them, creating a Military Working Dog team," Caldas said. "That becomes their dog, family, job and lifeblood. We don't share dogs; we don't work any other dog apart from ours. You don't want the dog to become confused about who his handler is; this translates into a strong bond."

That all-important bond could save an Airman's life while on duty.

Working with dogs each day may seem like the perfect job, and Caldas wanted to follow in the footsteps of his leaders who were handlers themselves.

"All my supervisors throughout my career were K-9 handlers and I saw what they did and with the passion that I already had for dogs, it seemed perfect," Caldas said. "So now I work with dogs every day. I'm pretty sure nobody in the Air Force gets to do what we do and have as much fun at work. If you have a down day, you come in and see your dog, and it makes you smile."

But the handlers never become complacent when they are assigned a fully trained dog and training is continuous.

"I would say every day is a challenge," he said. "You don't know exactly what you're going to do that day. Our section motto is you have to challenge yourself daily and meet that goal. Advancing them is the challenge; you've got to think outside the box. You come into work and think, 'What can I do to better my dog, and make him proficient and make him stand out?' That's my challenge every day."

In order to advance the dogs and make them greater warriors, Caldas' leadership push him each day, and he rises to it.

"My troop goes above and beyond what's required by being one of the best handlers we have," said Staff Sgt. Matthew Clark, 100th SFS MWD handler from Dodge City, Kansas. "Being an MWD handler is a lot of responsibility, especially as a senior airman, but he handles it with a level of maturity that is unmatched by his peers.

"He is an asset to the Air Force and K-9 family, and I couldn't ask for a better troop. Our MWD heritage is enriched with pride and conviction for what we do, and I am glad his Airmanship mindset is aimed toward tradition and it brings me honor to serve alongside him on a daily basis," Clark said. 

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