Stepping stones: An Airman’s path to K-9 career

It is (military) weekend again.

Lots of subjects to write about.

This weekend, I will indulge myself and will write about one of my most favorite subjects, those magnificent, brave, loyal military working dogs (MWDs).

But first, a little “refresher” from previous columns:

A dog is man’s best friend.

Dogs have been so from the earliest times.

They have also been some of man’s best companions and protectors during hunting, patrolling, in guarding his person and property — and in warfare.

“The Greeks and Romans probably were the first users of dogs in warfare. They sent formations of attack dogs, complete with spiked armor, to harass and cause general disturbance throughout enemy lines,” according to a factsheet published by the Department of Defense (DoD) Military Working Dog School, a unique military organization in San Antonio, Texas, dedicated to the training of military working dogs used in patrol, drug and explosive detection and other specialized missions by DoD and other government agencies.

The best breeds of dogs for MWD are the German Shepherd, Dutch Shepherd and Belgian Malinois.

“[They] have the best overall combination of keen sense of smell, endurance, speed, strength, courage, intelligence and adaptability to almost any climatic condition. The highly developed senses of hearing and smell, along with a generally superior personality and disposition, make [these breeds] the most versatile working dog breeds, and the ones best suited for military duties,” according to the MWD School.

They perform special roles such as the detection of marijuana and drugs, including cocaine, hashish and heroin, explosives, bombs, ordnance and the deadly Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) that cost us so many lives and injuries in Iraq and continue to do our troops harm in Afghanistan.

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Members from Hope Animal Assistance Crisis Response (HOPE AACR) volunteer with personnel affected by the shootings at the Washington Navy Yard. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Pedro A. Rodriguez)

Let us, however, not forget the “civilian counterparts” of the military working dogs. The “comfort dogs,” “therapy dogs” or “service dogs” who bring emotional support and are therapy to the traumatically stressed, the sick and the injured.

They brought such support a couple of years ago to Washington Navy Yard personnel in the wake of the Sept. 16, 2013, mass shooting there (above) and as Gunther, Army Master Sgt. Lyle Babcock’s service dog, does for the management analyst for the Kansas National Guard, who lives and works through his post-traumatic stress disorder with the help of his service dog (below).

MWD Kansas nat Guard

Kansas National Guard photo by Army Sgt. Zach Sheely

Some statistics on MWDs as of 2011-2012:

As of 2011, 600 US Military dogs were actively participating in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

As of 2012, there were approximately 2,700 active-duty military working dogs deployed worldwide with our Armed Forces.

According to the American Humane Association, each MWD saves between 150-200 lives.

Sadly, as of 2012, 29 of these magnificent creatures had been killed in action in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Here are some photos — some published before.

Stepping stones: An Airman’s path to K-9 career

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Alyssa Stamps, 35th Security Forces Squadron military working dog handler, plays with her dog, Elvis, at Misawa Air Base, Japan, Sept. 23, 2015. U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jordyn Fetter

Apache Shield

U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Sean Pabey, left, U.S. Army Sgt. James Carlberg and Army Staff Sgt. Abby, a MWD, provide overwatch from the mountains of Maiden Shar in Afghanistan’s Wardak province.

mil wkng dog hulk

Hulk, a MWD with the U.S. Air Force’s 628th Security Forces Squadron, completes an obstacle course Sept. 24, 2014, at Joint Base Charleston, S.C. The obstacle course was designed to prepare the dogs for challenges they will face at their home stations and during deployments. (DoD photo by Senior Airman Dennis Sloan, U.S. Air Force)

milwkng dog dentist

Veterinarians and a dentist remove a tooth from Ricsi, a U.S. Air Force military working dog, March 24, 2013, at Transit Center at Manas, Kyrgyzstan. (DoD photo by Staff Sgt. Stephanie Rubi, U.S. Air Force)

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U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Erick Martinez, a military dog handler, carries Argo II, his MWD, over railroad tracks at Hill Air Force Base, Utah. This exercise builds trust, loyalty and teamwork between Martinez and Argo, who have only been working together for two months. (DoD photo by Airman 1st Class Allen Stokes, U.S. Air Force)

milwkngdog pararescue

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Jason Fischman, a pararescueman assigned to the 83rd Expeditionary Rescue Squadron, hoists with a U.S. Army tactical explosive detection dog into a HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan. (DoD photo by photo by Staff Sgt. Stephenie Wade, U.S. Air Force)

milwkng dogs night patrol

Coalition forces and their military working dog patrol a village during a clearing operation Sept. 28, 2012, in Archi district, Kunduz province, Afghanistan. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Cassandra Thompson)

milwkngdogs brown snakes

John Lizama, a dog handler with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, guides working dog Spencer around a U.S. Air Force Humvee to check for brown tree snakes before the vehicle is loaded onto an Air Force C-130 Hercules aircraft for a mission in support of Operation Damayan. (DoD photo by Senior Airman Marianique Santos, U.S. Air Force)

MWD house search

U.S. Army Sgt. Ryan Henderson and Satin, his military working dog, search an Afghan home in the village of Spine Gundey in the Gelan district of Afghanistan’s Ghazni province, May 10, 2012. Henderson is assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team.

At the top, I mentioned that MWDs are one of my most favorite subjects.

I can not let this post “go to print” without at least one photo of that other of my most favorite (military) subjects, the homecoming of our military into the open arms of their loved ones.

USNS Mercy returns to San Diego

A daughter greets her mother after hospital ship USNS Mercy returns to homeport at Naval Base San Diego. Mercy completed a nearly 5-month deployment in support of Pacific Partnership 2015. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Eric Coffer)

Read more here, here, here, and here.

Have a great weekend.

Lead photo: U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Alyssa Stamps plays with her dog, Elvis, at Misawa Air Base, Japan, Sept. 23, 2015. Stamps and Elvis were training to become a certified military working dog team. U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jordyn Fetter

Dorian de Wind, Military Affairs Columnist
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