MWDs build strong bonds with their handlers, add value to mission

  • Published
  • By Holly Logan-Arrington
  • Robins Air Force Base Public Affairs
Sometimes it takes almost losing something to realize its value.

That was certainly the case for Staff Sgt. Ian Bailey, a military working dog handler with the 78th Security Forces Squadron's Military Working Dog Section here.

Bailey, who has been with the 78th SFS/S3D for a little more than a year, had a heart-racing moment that nearly cost him his 6-year-old German Shepherd MWD Soyer's life.

"I was on a mission early one morning in southern Afghanistan, and we were required to cross a river," he said. "Before we started to cross, we started taking enemy fire. After a few minutes of returning fire, we pressed across the river while still taking enemy fire."

Then, the unthinkable happened.

"While crossing the river, my dog was washed down stream so I had to dive in the river to get him out," he said. "That was the scariest moment in my career to this point. It helped me realize why I love what I do. I truly care about my dog."

Like most military working dog teams, Bailey and Soyer were matched based on a combination of aspects: their personalities, work tempos and how well they interacted.

Those factors - coupled with monthly refresher training and daily playtime - all combine for a rock-solid bond between the handler and the MWD.

Bailey had good reason beyond their bond to be concerned about the loss of his four-legged partner, especially in a deployed environment. Soyer provided protection that stretched beyond a flak vest or helmet.

His skills were honed early in the canine's life.At about 2 years old, MWDs undergo a three-month training course at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, where they learn to do a number of tasks.

Among them is detection and patrol, which protects the Air Force mission and service members alike.

Staff Sgt. Cal Rogers, a MWD trainer in the78th SFS/S3D, said the dogs offer skills their human counterparts can't bring to the Air Force mission.

"Military Working Dogs provide a level of psychological and physical deterrence that no other system in the Department of Defense can provide," he said. "The presence of a single K9 team can, in many cases, de-escalate a situation in which a suspect is hostile. K9 units, through their unique senses, have the ability to detect and deter potential dangers to the installation that human abilities alone could miss."

People shouldn't let these German shepherds' admirable work and come-pet-me eyes fool them.

"Members of the public should be aware that MWDs aren't pets, and are trained to defend both their handler and themselves when they feel threatened," Rogers said. "You should always stay at least 9 feet away from a MWD and its handler and avoid any sudden movements that could be perceived as suspicious or threatening. Do not attempt to pet an MWD at any time."

Rogers said the more than 12 K9S on Robins are 'force multipliers.'

Unlike their human partners, however, MWDs remain assigned to Robins until their careers end.