JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas – The 341st Training Squadron conducts all military working dog initial training as well as all MWD handlers courses for the Department of Defense right here at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas. This elite team was able to share what they do with a class of 4th grade students from Buda Elementary School during a virtual canine demonstration, May 18, 2020.
“I knew this group of fourth graders would love this topic, and they did,” said Dr. Cynthia Farest, the student’s teacher. “I wanted them to have a special memory of fourth grade, and I thought a visit with the group that trains the dogs would be just the ticket. I think it is very important that kids make real connections to their learning, and I believe this experience will do that.”
The students, their teacher, and their instructional coach tuned in at 10:00 am to learn more about the work MWDs do for their detection and patrol missions during their study of animal soldiers and heroes past and present.
Air Force Staff Sgt. Edward Fortuna Clase and Army Sgt. Milo Bunts led the demonstration and gave students information about the training these dogs go through to become a MWD and the capabilities they bring to the operational force.
“Our dogs have capabilities to save a lot of lives,” said Bunts. “They find bad things that people aren’t supposed to have and they also find bad people. They’re the best dogs in the world and I love them. I love my job.”
Bunts and Fortuna shared their journeys to how they became dog handlers before beginning the demonstrations. Though they are from different military branches, both men’s jobs are under the umbrella of military police, known as Security Forces in the Air Force. As an Army Soldier, Bunts trained to be a police officer and a canine handler at the same time during, whereas Fortuna first became a Security Force’s Defender and performed those duties for a few years before applying to be a canine handler and entering into the handlers course as a student here at the 341st TRS. They also shared details about the training journey the dogs go through in order to become a qualified MWD. The most common dog breeds to be trained as MWDs are German Shepherds, Dutch Shepherds, and Belgian Malinois who all spend sixty-five days in detection and fifty-five days in patrol, for a total of one hundred twenty training days.
The 37th Training Wing is not only the Gateway to the Air Force, as the location of Air Force basic military training, but it is the Gateway to K-9 for the DOD,” said Maj. Tate Grogan, 341st TRS director of operations. “The military's four-legged teammates started out right here at the 341st TRS.”
The first demonstration was a detection demonstration, followed by patrol and obedience training and a display of bite capabilities, all of which ready the dogs for their duties as service members of our country.
“We need dogs to be confident whenever they are in the field,” explained Fortuna Clase. “We don’t want a dog that is afraid of heights or loud noises. These dogs are highly trained and there is no better teammate than them to have your back.”
The kids asked questions about how the dogs differentiated between scents, if the dogs get treats on the battlefield, whether or not the dogs have ever gone after the wrong person, and many other things they were curious about. Fortuna Clase and Bunts answered every question and helped the kids to understand the big picture of what life is like for a MWD and an MWD handler.
“That was the BEST [virtual] class meeting ever! I know these kids will be talking about this morning for years to come,” said Ms. Melissa English, virtual class teacher. “A million thanks. It was a perfect morning of learning.”
Learn more about the Gateway to K-9 training and breeding program here.