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Patriotic Article

By USAF SSgt. Stefanie Torres

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Military Working Dogs defend 'The Rock'
(August 18, 2010)

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The Military Working Dog Section of the 386th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron has the unique mission of safeguarding an undisclosed air base here with highly motivated K-9 partners. The dogs' powerful sense of smell is useful to airmen conducting foot patrols, vehicle inspections and other anti-terrorism tasks, while their sense of loyalty provides protection to their human counterparts.

To their handlers, they are more than daily companions. They are also working partners and important force multipliers.

"I trust my dog, and I trust my life with him," Staff Sgt. Lino Estacion said of Gabe, his 12 year-old Belgian Malinois, a sturdy breed that closely resembles German Shepherds. "We have been together quite a bit, and we have completed a lot of missions."

Military working dogs initially are trained at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, when they are between the ages of 12 and 36 months. After that, they are sent to operational units throughout the Department of Defense to start work.

These highly driven dogs are used in patrol, drug- and explosive-detection, and other specialized mission functions, according to the Air Force's military working dog Web site.

Although this is Estacion's fourth overseas deployment, the tour marks his first rotation at the 386th ESFS with Gabe. Because of a recent permanent change of station to Travis Air Force Base, Calif., Estacion had just three months to work with Gabe before his deployment.

"I had to build a rapport with him pretty quickly," he said. "We need to be a team and trust each other because of the different types of people, encounters and unfamiliar areas we come across out here."

Gabe has been through extensive training and years of work but still has qualities that are all his own, Estacion said. He refers to Gabe as "Chief" because of his personality and experience.

"He is the wise one and always the oldest dog out of every other dog we have ran across," Estacion said. "When he is with the other dogs, he is in charge."

The weather here can be imposing for military working dogs, with temperatures
regularly exceeding 100 degrees Fahrenheit, so it's important that handlers develop an understanding of what each dog can handle out in the field, said Tech. Sgt. Nathan Nash, the squadron's kennel master.

"Constantly being in the sand and heat is a challenge," said Nash, who is deployed here from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C. "It takes a good couple of weeks to get acclimatized, but that is where it is important to know your dog and know what they can handle. You take care of them, and they will take care of you."

German Shepherds, Belgian Malinois and Dutch Shepherd's are the most common breeds for MWDs because of their intelligence and athleticism. And although their handlers are constantly training them, whether on patrols or running the obstacle course, the dogs make the job worthwhile, Nash explained.

"I think, like most people will tell you who do this, the best part is actually working with the dog," he said. "For me, if you love dogs, that's what you should be doing."

The fact that he gets to work with dogs while also serving as a security forces troop makes it that much more enjoyable, he added.

"We are security forces," said Nash. "We are here to fight the fight.

By USAF SSgt. Stefanie Torres
386th Air Expeditionary Wing
Copyright 2010

Provided through DVIDS

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