JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas -- Cadre members of the 341st Training Squadron’s K-9 Handlers course here showcased the training military members undergo to become military working dog handlers during a virtual demonstration for members of the San Antonio Rotary Club of Fair Oaks Ranch Texas, June 3, 2020.
This demonstration was executed by students from the military branches, Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps, who are all in the training pipeline to become MWD handlers here at the Gateway to K-9, the 37th Training Wing.
The rotary club is a national and international service organization who reached out to learn more about what these service members and their furry companions go through to join the most elite two- and four-legged teammate duos in the DoDs . According to Bobbe Barnes, the club treasurer, at least half of her chapter is former military, so the demonstration held a special significance for this community group.
“My husband was career military, and he has told me stories about how they used these “war dogs” in Vietnam and the Middle East,” said Jane Burton, the rotary club’s secretary. “His second career after retiring was to teach middle school and each year he would take his students from McNair Middle School to Lackland to see the dogs put through their paces.”
After general introductions, the demonstration started with a show of basic obedience capabilities. Three dogs were instructed to sit, go down on all fours, stay, run in circles, perform facing movements alongside their handlers and more. They also showed the dogs being rewarded for their successful execution of each command, who you ask? With their beloved cong toy and some play time.
Next, there was a controlled aggression demonstration.
“We’re training the students and the dogs. If the dog were to encounter someone in the field, we don’t want that dog to be aggressive. We just want to get the suspects ID to make sure that they are supposed to be in that area, but we do not want the dog to [be aggressive] whatsoever,” said SSgt. Eric Formolo. “A fully qualified MWD is trained to act with or without command, so it is important these verbal, physical and other queues are well known by the handler and the dog.”
Pursuit & Attack was the next demonstration. With proper protective gear, an Airman approached the dog and his handler, pretending to be a troublemaker. When the handler told him to hold still or he would release the dog, the Airman ran anyway and the dog chased him down to bite his sleeve.
After that, there was a search of the suspect, followed by a show of what would happen if a suspect ran while being transported to the handler’s vehicle. Finally, the handlers and dogs demonstrated what is called a “stand-off.”
“Once you fire a gun, you cannot bring the bullet back, but when you release a dog, you’re always able to recall that dog back if the suspect surrenders,” said Formolo.
The dog chased the suspect but stopped and sat by him when his handler called off the attack.
At the end of the presentation, members of the rotary club were eager to ask questions and learn more about these impressive animals and service members. The members of the club asked about the cost of keeping a dog, what happens with dogs that do not pass the training tests, where dogs live during training, fostering and adopting puppies and military working dogs, what a career looks like for an MWD and how long their career may last.
Formolo explained that each dog is different, but typically, the dogs work anywhere from nine to eleven years before the military seeks to give the dogs a family, otherwise it is based on the health and need of the dog.
“These dogs get human interaction every day, [and] top notch care. It’s a good life they live,” said Formolo.
The club members asked about the career for the handlers as well and got to hear about the difference boths taken by servicemembers to become handlers based on their branch of service...Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and Army all have a slightly different path to work with dogs, but every single one of them goes through the training at JBSA-Lackland at the Gateway Wing. The DoD entrusts a lot to the 341st TRS and for decades they continue to deliver.
“Everyone I talked to loved [this] presentation,” said Barnes. “You all do important work!”
“I think the program speaks to us on many levels,” she said. “As those who appreciate dogs and their unique talents, as citizens who are proud of the special things going on in our San Antonio community, and as patriots who appreciate what our military and their dogs are doing to preserve freedom in the world.”
To learn more about the 341st TRS visit www.37trw.af.mil/Units/37th-Training-Group/341st-Training-Squadron/.
For more photos visit our MWD album on the Gateway Wing Flickr page.