IWAKUNI, Japan - Dogs are often thought of as, “a man's best
friend,” but what happens when the Marine Corps trains a dog to its
standards, gives it a mission and a handler?
When the kennel
master assigns a dog to a handler, the Marine Corps standards
instilled in both of them allows them to form a team and accomplish
a mission not possible without the help of one another.
I met her, I saw why they say dogs are family and they treat them
like family,” said Lance Cpl. DeSean R. White, military working dog
handler with Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron. “She's my best
Meet Azra, a 7-year-old female Belgian Malinois, who has
been White's K-9 partner for the past six months out of her five
years as a military working dog aboard Marine Corps Air Station
Lance Cpl. DeSean R. White, military working dog handler with
Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron follows his dog Azra into a
room during a routine training narcotics search exercise. The search
took place inside an empty barracks room aboard Marine Corps Air
Station Iwakuni, Japan, Jan. 16, 2014. Azra is a narcotics
specialist dog and trains regularly to sustain and improve her sense
of smell and trust with her handler. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by
Lance Cpl. David Walters)
Military working dogs like Azra are worth
approximately $60,000-$70,000. The cost of training the dog includes
food and other necessities needed for its health and performance.
White spends a minimum of three hours a day with Azra in order
to sustain and build upon their bond, a sense of trust, and
obedience through training.
According to White, establishing
this bond started off slow, especially considering the fact he is
Azra's fourth handler. Handlers must put time in from day one in
order to create a connection with any military working dog.
“When I first got here, I just went and sat in her kennel,” said
White. “Sometimes she would walk away from me and ignore me.”
Upon week two of repeating this process, Azra became more
comfortable around White. He then began to pull Azra out of the
kennel, train with her and spend quality one-on-one time with her.
The bond these two share may be obvious to people if they
witness the way Azra and White work together.
“You can see
when they go out together and they're training, how they bond,” said
Sgt. Johnathon E. Pierce, kennel master with H&HS. “She (Azra) will
stay around him more than anybody else, even if other people have a
toy. That's really good for our job because if you're training in
the Marines, you want the Marine to respect you and care about what
you think. That's how his dog is. His dog respects him, cares about
him and wants to work for him.”
White said, he tried to keep
the bond professional in the beginning, but received devastating
news from the veterinarian.
“We had one incident where the
veterinarian thought she might have a tumor,” said White. “At first,
I tried not to get too attached because that was my second or third
month handling her and I tried to go in professionally and not get
too emotional. As soon as I heard the slight chance of the tumor, my
heart dropped. Even changing my duty station and leaving here
without her, I don't know how I'm going to react.”
spends as much time with her as possible after experiencing a
scenario that could have cut his time with her short.
comes in on his days off to walk and play with Azra, stays late or
comes in early to spend time with her in order to make sure she
knows he loves her.
“We have a personal bond,” said White. “I
can tell her to do something and she's on it, and I don't have to
worry about her. I would like to say I make her life more enjoyable
by just playing with her and getting her out. I would like to think
she notices when I come in on the weekends or another random day,
that she is the only dog that gets taken out and she sees that she
means something to me.”
White said if it came down to it, he
would risk his life for Azra, “in a heartbeat.”
does great things and if it's just my life on the line, I can't
smell for drugs or pursue a suspect like she could,” said White.
“Given the chance, I would definitely put my life on the line for
her if that's what it took.”
With their close bond, White
said their thoughts and feelings are contagious to one another, but
no matter how he feels, she always brightens his day.
had some pretty bad days, just like anyone else,” said White. “But,
when I'm training with her, I don't think about it. I look at her
for that brief moment and she's happy and I'm happy. It's never
failed once. I go to work and I'm happy because of her. I never knew
working with a dog could make me that happy.”
White, working with Azra is not just a job, but a privilege to have
such an amazing personal and professional bond between them and will
be something he strives to strengthen every day.
By USMC Lance Cpl. David Walters
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