by Gina Randall
100th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
2/2/2016 - RAF MILDENHALL, England -- For
Ministry of Defence employee Deborah Black, 100th Security Forces
Squadron kennel attendant, her passion for her job and the dogs she
cares for each day motivated her to overcome the news she had developed a
"My world fell apart when I was diagnosed with breast cancer three years
ago and following extensive treatment, I returned to work. Being here
has significantly helped me put that to the back of my mind and focus on
getting on with my job," said Black. "It's been a big benefit in aiding
my recovery, both physically and psychologically, as it has distracted
me from dwelling on my health issues. The exercise and interaction with
the dogs and people I work with has definitely played a big part in my
recovery, together with the support of my family and friends. Three
years later and I'm good. My most recent mammogram last month was all
The exercise and outdoor lifestyle may have helped her mentally and
physically, but it was a life-long passion that brought her to RAF
Mildenhall nearly 15 years ago. A journey began that would allow her to
extend her family to the Service members she works with each day, both
human and canine.
"I wanted to work here because I just love dogs," Black laughed. "I've
always loved dogs. Prior to this job, I worked at a pet nutrition unit
for a food company for seven years which is where I got most of the
canine experience. Following redundancy from there, I saw this job
advertised, came for an interview and was offered the position. I still
had a passion to work with dogs and decided to take the job. And 15
years on I still love it."
No day at work is the same for Black and she knows the dogs better than
anyone -- from the day they arrive on base as a young recruit, to the
day their "do not pet" leash is hung up for good.
"This job is very unique in terms of working with dogs. I get to see
these highly skilled dogs train and develop in their capabilities,
improve and become very competent over the years," Black added. "I get
to know the dogs' personalities and behaviors very well as I spend so
much time with them daily from the time they arrive off the plane, to
the day they retire years later."
It's the characters of the dogs that make Black's day brighter, even through her darkest times.
"The dogs definitely all have individual personalities, a real mish-mash
of personalities," Black added with a smile. "To give you examples,
Gina, she is really loving, quiet and kind. Oorion is a real macho man,
'look at me' kind of dog, with huge drive. Brock is like a grumpy old
man (even though he is not very old) - after he's eaten his food, he
lies on his bed and says 'I'm not getting up yet!' They all have their
own endearing individual traits."
The dogs have a job to do, just like their handlers, but Black gets to
spend time and energy caring for the four-legged warriors who serve
"The dogs bring so much to my day, they make me feel happy and give
unconditional love," Black reflected fondly. "You go in the kennels
first thing in the morning and they are all there looking at you with
expectation. I'm there all the time for the dogs whereas the handlers
come and go. The handlers move bases and I am with these dogs until the
day they are retired. They stay at this base their whole lives and don't
go anywhere apart from on missions. In the past they have deployed with
their handlers for six months at a time but recently they only go out
Black also enjoys working with the humans in the work center.
"I think the military people I work with are wonderful," she said. "I've
made so many friends over the years, I think I could go and stay in
many of the states in America and I would be very welcome. I still keep
in touch with a lot of handlers who have served here. We have a really
good relationship at the kennels. I'm the only civilian, but I get
included in everything, both at work and socially. It's not like, 'you
are the kennel attendant, and you aren't involved.' They actually come
to me with all sorts of issues both personal and work-related and I help
When the time comes for Black to say a fond farewell to a dog for the
final time after years of faithful service, she is happy to know they
will be cared for as a hero deserves. All the dogs are sadly missed, but
for Black some will stay in her memories forever.
"I feel very sad when they retire. Nice in the fact that they are going
to retire and go home with somebody that they know, but sad in the fact
that we won't see them here," Black explained. "I try not to have
favorites, but in the past there was Ootto. He was a magnificent big
dog, our first Belgian Malinois to come to Mildenhall, and he was
probably the stand-out dog of all time. He has passed away now at the
age of 12. He had a nice, well-earned retirement back in the states with
his former handler who adopted him. He enjoyed retirement for about two
years before it was his time."
She recalled that for those who worked with him each day, Ootto was the
epitome of the type of dog that handlers hope for as they are assigned a
partner for duty.
"Ootto was such an amazing dog, such an all-round amazing dog," Black
said. "He was brilliant at detection and bite work. When he was getting
ready to retire, the handler who adopted him would have his small
children around him and he was as gentle as a lamb! He was that good. He
was just the ultimate MWD."
The U.S. Air Force entrusts its valuable assets to people who are as
dedicated to the dogs as it is to the military members and the Air Force
mission. And for Black, her leadership couldn't be prouder of her care
of their dogs.
"It was very distressing for the entire kennel staff when we heard the
news of Mrs. Black's situation a few years back. Not only is she a work
colleague, but a true friend who has a big heart," said Tech. Sgt.
Samuel Giordano, 100th SFS kennel master. "As scary as it was, we all
knew she would be fine. Additionally, none of us would accept that she
wouldn't be back working with the dogs. She is truly an irreplaceable
asset with her vast experience working with these animals. Mrs. Black is
the true continuity of this section. I like to think I am the boss, but
really she is!"
For Black, the people she works with have become her extended family and she never takes the job she loves for granted.
"It's totally changed my outlook on life," Black said about her illness.
"I try to make the most of everything, every day. Make every moment as
enjoyable as possible as you really don't know what is around the