KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa, Japan, –
It’s pitch black outside and the sun won’t shine for a few more hours. Suddenly, a light comes on, illuminating the room. The dogs are awake and ready for attention from their handlers -- the sound of rattling cages and barking fills the room. They know what comes next -- it’s feeding time and the start of their day.
An overlooked part of the Air Force’s enlisted force happens to walk on four feet, rather than two. These fearless warriors are trained to get into areas the human body can’t, to make sure there’s no danger present to their counterparts.
The 18th Security Forces Squadron military working dog handlers, Staff Sgt. David Maestas and Senior Airman Jessica Reyes, give a glimpse into the day in the life of a military working dog.
Military working dogs train in a variety of skills, including narcotic and explosives training, as well as combat techniques to bring hostile people to the ground.
“The importance of this job cannot be understated,” Maestas said. “We lead the way and make sure the path is clear. I trust my dog to ensure the people behind me are safe.”
Each dog is assigned to the base, meaning when handlers get orders for a permanent change of station, the dogs remain at the base – meaning multiple handlers throughout a dog’s tenure. On average, the dogs are in service between 10 and 12 years depending on their breed. Ranging from German Shepherds to the Belgian Malinois, military working dogs come in all shapes and sizes. Each dog is assigned a rank that is one higher than their handler. As the handler gets promoted, so does his or her dog.
Maestas and his working dog KitKat, a German Shepherd, start their day at 4 a.m. with breakfast. After a half hour, they head to the main Security Forces building to arm up and attend guard mount – a morning meeting to gain information on the day’s operations.
Once guard mount is over, KitKat and Maestas return to the kennels to do administrative work, and then to the obedience yard. In the yard, KitKat is tested on his off-leash obedience skills. This time is a great chance for KitKat to just be a dog, loosen up, and show his personality. Once the session is over, it’s back to the grind.
The duo put on their game faces and head back to work.
KitKat and Maestas spend part of their day conducting foot patrols, building checks and vehicle searches at the base’s gates.
Once the gate check portion of the day is complete, the team visits the post office to check the inbound mail for anything suspicious, just as they do on vehicle checks. Both measures are ways that they keep Team Kadena safe from harm.
The next stop is controlled aggression training -- where the dogs work on commands for dealing with hostile people they may encounter as part of the job. Staff Sgt. Bryan Savella, 18th SFS MWD handler, assists with training by acting as a hostile threat. On command, Reyes sends Aly forward to attack. With one solid bite and pull, Aly has done his job, and brought the attacker down – and maybe more impressively releases on command keeping Reyes safe.
After a few runs of aggression training, the final stop for the day leads to a training exercise. The training scenarios generally occur on Tuesdays and Thursdays and vary between scenarios the teams could encounter in the field. In one scenario, they test a roadway trying to find suspicious items via scent. Once the course is complete, it was time for the end of the duty day.
The dogs returned to the kennel for the evening feeding, the handlers finish up any last-minute items and then return to the armory to disarm and check their weapons back in.
Many handlers develop a close relationship with their dogs due to the number of hours spent together on and off the job. Whether it’s spending time with a sick dog in the veterinarian’s office, to deploying with their dog, handlers spend more hours than anyone sees with their four legged partner.
“My dog is my best friend,” Maestas said. “He will protect me and put his life on the line without a second thought and all he wants in return is to play tug-of-war.”
These trained fur balls, with a ferocious bite are a constant reminder and deterrent to keep the bad guys out, the good guys in, and keep Team Kadena safe and secure.