Yokota Air Base, Japan -- The priority of safety and security of Yokota Air Base and its residents is second to none, and on the front lines of the base’s defense are some of the hardest working four legged members of Team Yokota.
The 374th Security Forces Squadron’s (SFS) military working dogs (MWD) and their handlers work long hours to ensure that no dangerous or illegal substances come through Yokota’s gates; they also regularly perform foot patrols, perimeter checks, random anti-terrorism measures and demonstrations for the public.
The specialties of the MWD teams at Yokota vary; some specialize in detecting drugs and others in explosives, but they are all certified patrol dogs that can search for and apprehend people, if required.
Senior Airman Mario Hernandez, 374 SFS MWD handler, is new to the MWD force and his first MWD partner is eight year old MWD veteran, Demo.
According to Hernandez, the hardest part for the dogs while searching, besides environmental factors such as temperature, wind and humidity is the relationship between the handler and the dog.
“Each dog has their own personality,” said Hernandez. “If the dogs don’t trust you, it will be hard to work with them.”
Hernandez and Demo have only been working together for a month, and according to Hernandez it takes a few months for the relationship between a dog and a handler to get to a point where they can fully trust and work together.
“You can’t just put anyone with a dog and expect them to instantly be a good team,” said Hernandez. “The MWD has to get to know you, and to do that you have to spend time getting to really know your dog; you have to play with them, work with them and be there for them daily to build that trust and teamwork.”
Hernandez and Demo still have some time and work to do before they are a fully operating team, but Senior Airman Cody Nickell, 374 SFS MWD handler, and his partner Topa have been working together for over six months and are ready for almost anything that might come their way.
Nickell and Topa work at a gate searching vehicles that come onto Yokota. The MWD’s that work at Yokota’s gates are trained to detect chemicals that could be used in explosives or other prohibited substances and alert the handler to their presence. For Nickell, one of the challenges of the long work day is keeping each other motivated.
“Sometimes he starts to lose his motivation to search and I have to bring up the energy to get Topa excited and searching properly,” said Nickell. “Some days he is the one giving me the motivation I need; we are a good team and we look out for each other.”
All the MWD’s and their handlers train weekly to ensure they can accurately detect substances and react properly in the event of a real world threat.
Handlers and their MWD’s are assigned to each other for the entire time the handler is stationed at the base, during this time they become best of friends.
“The best part about being a MWD handler is that each day I get to work side-by-side with my best friend,” said Nickell. “If you’re having a hard time you know that you’re not alone and you have a loyal friend who is always there for you; that’s Topa.”
Topa is a six year old Belgian Malinois who is missing the top half of one ear, the tip of his tail and more than a few teeth. Topa is a dog who has been through a lot and is one most would never want to mess with, but for Nickell, he couldn’t have asked for a better partner.
With Yokota being the Pacific Air Force’s premier power projection platform it is vital the base and its assets remain safe. Luckily Team Yokota is in the capable hands of the 374 SFS and their MWD teams.