K-9 Unit protects, patrols and detects threats
By Kirsten Tacker, Kukini Photojournalist
/ Published October 31, 2006
HICKAM AIR FORCE BASE, Hawaii -- Across from the Mamala Bay Golf Course, burrowed in a hill is a World War II coastal artillery battery where Hickam's eight military working dogs live.
Each MWD comes trained and dual certified for patrol and detection from Lackland Air Force Base, Texas.
These highly trained animals are always in work mode and are aggressive when commanded to do so.
"They are definitely a force multiplier," said Tech. Sgt. Robert Norris, 15th Security Force Squadron's MWD trainer. "It is a lot easier for dogs to do their jobs when it comes to explosives. They are quicker than people and can search vehicles faster than we can. They are more proficient, better trained and an all around force multiplier, as well as a psychological deterrent."
Anytime the K-9 unit is called out for a bomb threat or even a drug search their mission is detection.
"We will go into the building first to give our dogs a chance to locate something," said Sergeant Norris. "If our dog does respond, we mark the location and let explosive ordnance device handle the rest."
Prior to a MWD arriving at Hickam for patrol and detection, they are put through a litany of tests.
"Usually before we buy the military working dogs, they have their basic obedience and are screened almost more in depth than we are for basic training," said Tech. Sgt. Nathan Nash, 15th SFS's kennel master.
Prior to their training, MWD's receive xrays for their hips to confirm they are without orders.
"MWD's are evaluated to see if they have a high drive for a toy, because the stuff we
do is game oriented," said Sergeant Nash. "It has to be fun for the dog, otherwise they
don't want to do it."
They're screened for gunfire training to make sure they are not aggressive towards the gun handler. They are screened to determine whether they are a drug or explosives
MWD. Once they pass all the screenings, the MWD can be adopted.
"Once it is determined whether they are going to work with explosives or drugs, they are placed in detection training," said Sergeant Nash. "It really depends on how quickly they pick it up. When they get here, we keep them proficient and try to advance them."
Keeping the MWD proficient is only part of what each handler is responsible for on a daily basis.
"With the K-9 unit you have to take care of your dog and come out on your days off," said Sergeant Norris. "You have to bathe your dog, clean the kennel and keep vet appointments. We tell everybody that retrains into K-9, there is a lot more to do behind the scenes than there is with being a regular security forces member."
The handlers are responsible for all aspects of their dog. Sergeant Nash and Norris were fully aware of the added responsibilities and were still compelled to retrained into th K-9 unit.
"It seemed like the handlers got a lot more respect and a lot more leeway," said Sergeant Norris. "The handlers were more independent and it seemed like they were
given a lot more responsibility. I'd rather ride around with my dog everyday, not saying
other people aren't good."
"Sometimes you can trust a dog better than you can a person," added Sergeant Nash.
Another aspect of working with a MWD is coming in regularly on days off.
"We still have to come in for the training, physical training and firing appointments," said Norris. "When we finish with that, we have to come to work to take care of the dogs."
A job that is this multi-faceted also requires the MWD and their handlers to perform random anti-terrorism measures.
"Dictated by the wing commander, we have random anti-terrorism measures at each entrance with the MWD," said Sergeant Norris. "The wing commander every month comes down with a list. They dictate when they want us out to secure the gates."
When they are not doing anti-terrorism procedures, MWD's are patrolling the base
with their handlers.
"On base we are required to do foot patrol in base housing, base exchange, Air Mobility Command terminal and any high profile areas on base," said Sergeant Norris. "They are not pets. We like to let people know, not to approach the dog or handlers for a safety aspect."
This is not for the handler or the dog, but more for the individual's safety. The precaution
is so that no one will be bit by accident.
"We don't want the dog to misinterpret any sudden movement made by somebody as aggression towards the handler," said Sergeant Nash. "They are trained to protect the handler."
In their spare time the dogs and their handlers travel all over the island to present demonstrations for educational purposes.
"We do demos all the time on base and at the schools," said Sergeant Norris. "People
are more than welcome to come out for the demos."
They demonstrate the MWD's capabilities, hoping to start children out early with the
message that drugs and explosives are bad.
"It gets them in the mind set, that there are things out there that can catch you doing bad
stuff," said Sergeant Norris. "These dogs are one of those things."
Lastly, another service the MWD's provide to the Air Force is for anyone who purchased
a used vehicle, the dog will screen the car.
"If you buy a used vehicle, you can contact security forces K-9 section within 30 days
after you buy the car," said Sergeant Norris. "As long as you have all the paperwork, we
will screen the car no questions asked."
For more information call 449-6373.