By Staff Sgt. J. Aaron Breeden
21st Space Wing Public Affairs
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE Colo. — As an oversized pick-up truck rolled into a dusty gravel lot, the silver trailer in tow was filled with the echoes of barking dogs ready for action. Members of the 21st Security Forces Squadron Military Working Dog Section were preparing for training exercises Jan. 18 to help prepare members that would soon be deploying.
Tech. Sgt. Loren Surley, 21st SFS MWD trainer and supervisor, the leader of the day’s exercises, explained the primary intent of this training was to reinforce the teamwork concept between the handlers and their dogs while familiarizing them with ‘outside-the-wire’ missions searching for drugs, bombs or on patrol.
Having been deployed as an MWD handler, Surley understands the importance of training exercises like this as it relates to safety.
“When you’re heading outside of the wire, you’re leading a team,” said Surley. “You have other people there for back-up, but usually it’s the K9 handlers who are responsible for the safety of the team.”
Staff Sgt. Whitney Young, 21st MWD handler, returned from his deployment to Afghanistan on Jan. 20 and explained how training like this prepares handlers gearing up for a deployment.
“The exercises that were done here, and the ones I did at my regional training center, are almost identical to what we’re seeing down range,” said Young.
“Some of the things we’re starting to train on are buried (training) aids,” he added. “That’s what we’re seeing everywhere in Afghanistan. Before we weren’t training on buried aids until we got into country, but it’s being incorporated into newer training and it definitely makes a huge difference.”
Young also talked about how the Air Force is beginning to train handlers to work their dogs off-leash.
“It’s something we’re really expanding on now,” said Young. “Before the dogs were on a 15-foot retractable leash but now some dogs are able to work up to 60 feet in front of the handler.”
This extra cushion incorporates another level of safety for the handler while allowing the team to work quicker and more effectively.
While the safety of a handler is paramount, safety of the dogs is just as important.
According to Staff Sgt. Shawn Kaup, also a trainer with the 21st MWD section, handlers at Peterson AFB receive more than 100 hours of advanced veterinary care instruction from Fort Carson veterinarians.
Kaup has worked as a MWD handler for 10 years through three deployments, two to Iraq and one to Oman.
The veterinary training includes learning cardiac life support, how to treat bleeding wounds, clearing airway obstructions and also learning to insert catheters and connecting IV lines, said Kaup.
Since fully trained MWDs are valued up to $80,000, handlers are even trained to call for medical evacuations in situations where a dog’s life is at stake.
Although life as a MWD handler is often filled with long hours in often less than ideal conditions, it’s still possible to smile at the end of each day.
“Everyone loves the dog,” said Surley. “It’s hard to have a bad day when you’re spending it with your best friend.”