SOUTHWEST ASIA, July 10, 2013 – One of the most difficult aspects of deployment for service members is leaving behind friends and family. Security forces airmen in the Military Working Dog section here, however, have a unique opportunity when they deploy.
“We get to deploy with our best friend,” said Air Force Senior Airman Andrew Hanus, a 379th Expeditionary Security Forces dog handler, deployed with his K-9 companion, Beni, from Travis Air Force Base, Calif.
Hanus and Beni are one of 13 working dog teams here who support the 379th ESFS’s mission to maintain security and vigilance throughout the wing, and to ensure no threats enter the base by searching each vehicle prior to entry. The dogs also serve as a psychological deterrent and are trained to attack perpetrators on command.
“The job we do is instrumental in keeping the base secure,” Hanus said. “A good relationship between a military dog and handler is critical to executing the mission.”
Before a deployment, MWD teams are certified and validated by the mission support group commander at their respective home stations.
“We demonstrate our abilities to work together,” Hanus said. “Beni showed proficiency in searching for explosive odors, and I showed competency in recognizing his change of behavior and making the final call if he is giving a positive response.”
The certification is conducted by the kennel master and the team must demonstrate the canine is obedient and listens to critical commands given by the handler. If those tasks are not demonstrated, they do not certify and training continues.
The MWD teams must also have mutual trust for one another, Hanus said.
“We work our dogs on a 6- to 15-foot leash,” he said. “If Beni detects a threat, we could potentially be within feet of an explosive device — right on top of it. I have to be able to trust him to provide an accurate response and that has a lot to do with our relationship.”
In addition to the patrol and search responsibilities, the duo trains every day to ensure Beni remains proficient in his duties, which is particularly important because he is new to the Air Force.
“This is not only Beni’s first deployment, but I am also his first handler,” Hanus said. “I have a very cool opportunity to help him learn and develop his skills.”
That, in itself, strengthens their relationship, Hanus said.
“Everything I teach him now should stick with him for the rest of his career,” he said. “I feel like I am setting him up for success.”
The bond and mutual trust between Hanus, Beni and other K-9 teams here is what keeps the base secure, Hanus said.
“Every morning I wake up and know I am going to be working with my closest friend out here,” Hanus said. “There is this awesome feeling of accomplishment you get working with a dog. These dogs are smart and the more time you spend with them, the more you begin to realize this. The appreciation we are given out here is tremendous, but the dogs are the ones putting in the real work.”
This sense of a strong companionship is shared across the K-9 community.
“There is a saying in the K-9 world: feelings and emotions run down leash,” said Air Force Tech. Sgt. Kent Bass, the unit’s kennel master. “If you have a good bond with your MWD they will be happy to work and be loyal to you.”