YOKOSUKA, Japan -- For the first time ever, the Commander, Fleet Activities Yokosuka (CFAY) Navy Security Forces Military Working Dog (MWD) division held a day of joint training with fellow MWD handlers from the U.S. Air Force and Army, Jan. 8.
CFAY’s MWD Kennel Master, Master-at-Arms Petty Officer 1st Class Thomas Marsh, explained why the joint training with dog handlers across the three services was so important to the overall mission in Japan.
“Knowledge. Exchanging knowledge to multiple kennels around so that everyone is working from the same basis,” he said. “If anyone has issues with training areas, whether it be training scenarios that their dogs are not performing, we just want to get the knowledge out from Yokosuka, because we have the knowledge here and our goal is to try to help has many personnel as possible with their dogs.”
The drills began bright and early, with all service members meeting at the training location to set up the scenarios in which they would run the dogs through with the handler at the lead.
“I think it’s great that we can get together and do these joint training events,” said U.S. Army Sergeant Michael Coffey, MWD handler from Camp Zama. “Our program in the Army is different than both the Navy’s program and the Air Force’s program. It’s really cool to get together and share ideas, share training experiences…it just helps us all become better military working dog handlers.”
The MWDs from Yokosuka are all trained for a variety of purposes, whether it be bomb detection or drug finding, but all the dogs are trained to work side by side with their handler, continuously strengthening the bond between dog and human. Handlers often don a protective bite suit and act as an aggressor to keep the dogs proficient in subduing an assailant, along with many other training techniques.
The CFAY kennel currently houses seven dogs, all of which go through an extensive training program at Joint Base San Antonio/Lackland, Texas, and continue that training daily at their duty stations upon arrival. With said training, that allows the dog and it’s handler to provide the base and the fleet the safety that it needs when it comes to deterrence of illegal activities and overall protection from those that wish to do it harm.
Marsh explained the bond with his MWD in one word – deep.
“That’s our lifeline. Without them, we can’t smell these bombs. We have a dog on a 26-foot leash. When he sits on a device, we are 26 feet away. If he misses it, then I step on it and I die, or if he misses it and steps on it, we both die. Or if we both miss it and not step on it, and someone from our team behind steps on it, or if the vehicles in route roll over it, people die. So it’s a lot of weight on every handler’s shoulders.”
The average time in service for most working dogs is between 10 and 12 years, then upon retirement are often adopted out to past MWD handlers or civilian law enforcement. The dedication and loyalty put forth by the dogs have been a major asset to the U.S armed forces and reflects the hard work displayed by their handlers as well.
“It’s definitely different than owning a pet at home because you are actually working with this animal on a daily basis and you build a relationship that you don’t really see anywhere else,” said U.S. Air Force Staff Sergeant Seth Shannon, MWD handler from Yokota Air Base. “You and that dog almost become one…and that’s your partner. It’s not necessarily heartbreaking but its bittersweet when it comes time for you and that dog to separate and you see someone else work with that dog or that dog retires.”
Marsh stated that this is the first time this joint training has taken place at Yokosuka, but hopefully it can be something that happens more often.