By Dave Smith
21st Space Wing Public Affairs staff writer
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — For thousands of years men have partnered with canine counterparts for work and companionship. That tradition continues today through the 21st Security Forces Squadron, Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, and its kennel of military working dogs.
High-tech methods and equipment have inundated security and police work in recent decades, but teaming up with mans’ best friend continues to be useful and effective. The 21st SFS maintains the second largest Air Force military working dog kennel in the continental U.S., preparing dogs and handlers for combat and security tasking around the globe.
The kennel is certified for 18 working dogs. Currently there are 17 MWDs total, including German Shepherds, Belgian Malinois and even a Labrador Retriever on Peterson AFB, working with an equal number of handlers, two trainers and a kennel master. Most of the dogs are certified in both substance detection and patrol work.
The size of the kennel is important. The 21st SFS MWD section supports Peterson AFB, Schriever AFB and Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station, as well as the U.S. Secret Service on distinguished guest visits. Dogs and handlers deploy to combat zones, too.
There is something about the presence of a living, breathing canine that has an impact which technologically advanced tools do not. Having a dog along at a scene bears significant benefits.
“There’s a psychological factor,” said Tech Sgt. Brett Marzo, 21st SFS Kennel Master. “I’ve been to calls where there were unruly people who didn’t care about a taser or the cops, but that dog being there is definitely a compliance tool.”
The MWDs are considered a less-than-lethal weapon. They are trained to bite and hold.
“You can’t call a bullet back, but you can call a dog back if the suspect complies,” said Marzo.
That ability only comes from intensive and regular training. The canines go through 90-120 days of training before being assigned to a home base. Once at the base MWDs, and handlers are paired and begin to form a close working relationship.
“That’s what I like best,” said Marzo. “That bond you develop with them where every day they are happy to see you. There’s no way you cannot be happy coming to work. It’s really gratifying.”
Training helps develop rapport between human and canine. When an MWD is on duty it participates in planned, specialized operational training, which can vary between animals. They undergo on- and off-leash obedience training — the standard sit, heel, lay-down commands — each day. If the canine is patrol certified, it goes through bite and gunshot training sessions. Working, training and playing together develops a strong working bond and partnership.
The drive of the specially bred dogs and their desire to work comes from many decades of breeding. Many MWDs are bought from programs in Germany and Netherlands, but the Air Force has developed its own breeding program as well. Different breeds bring different characteristics to the fight, Marzo said.
“German Shepherds are like Airmen and Malinois are like Marines,” he said.
Senior Airman Amanda Legault recently started working with her five-year-old partner, Dano.
“He’s my 60-pound fur-missile,” she said.
Legault gravitated toward becoming a dog handler for a simple reason.
“I love dogs,” she said. “It is something I wanted to do as long as I can remember.”
For her, one of the biggest rewards in working with a MWD partner is the loyalty the dogs display.
“Dogs have an incredible amount of loyalty,” she said. “It’s like coming to work to see a friend and they are excited to see their handler.”
The value of the MWD is well documented. It’s not lost at Peterson AFB, either. The Golden Knight award was presented to the K-9 Section in July, acknowledging the important role they play in the security of Team Pete.
Around the clock, Security Forces defenders, both two-legged and four-legged varieties, are watching, investigating, patrolling and working to assure Team Pete can fly, fight and win in space and cyberspace.
This is the last in a series of articles highlighting some of the major responsibilities of the 21st Security Forces Squadron.