COLUMBUS AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. --
Throughout history, canines have been used in warfare supporting combat operations. As time moved on, they were used for a variety of tactics from the armor-clad Roman war dogs to Napoleon’s wall detectors warning of an impending attack.
Although the methods have changed quite a bit, Military Working Dogs still play a big role in both combat operations and base security.
MWDs are deployed around the world to accomplish the Air Force mission by serving in a variety of roles such as tracking, search and rescue, and detection. Their role is paramount to keeping Airmen and communities safe, according to Staff Sgt. Karl Stefanowicz, 14th Security Forces Squadron Kennel Master.
“Our mission is to supplement and support the 14th SFS by providing MWDs who can help protect our community,” Stefanowcz said. “Our dogs are patrol and detectors, they can go out and help apprehend suspects possibly with a bite if the situation requires force, they can locate a suspect in hiding and they often support vehicle inspections detecting contraband and bomb-making ingredients.”
Those roles don’t stop at the gate. These capabilities are often used outside the base community.
“We provide a lot of off-base support along with our on-base support,” Stefanowcz said. “There was recently a bomb threat at Baptist (Memorial) Hospital last Friday (Nov. 13). The only bomb dog Lowndes County had was out of state at the time, so we went there and swept the whole building with our MWDs. In that aspect we provide a huge bonus amount of protection to the local community.”
Cooperation with local community law enforcement as well as other base defenders is pertinent for mission success, according to Senior Airman Valentino Blank, 14th SFS MWD Handler.
“It’s important for our law enforcement needs, they enhance our capabilities,” Blank said. “We work in cohesion with other defenders all the time such as vehicle searches and patrols.
“That dog has the ability to detect things we can’t. If they do it becomes probable cause that we can act upon.”
When these moments arise, handlers must be confident in their MWD.
“You can’t beat a dog, you just can’t,” Stefanowcz said. “The psychological impact and force multiplier the MWDs bring has a great impact. We can use an MWD to find a barricaded suspect in about two minutes, whereas it may take an entire team 20 plus minutes.”
MWDs have been used by the U.S. Military since World War I. At the time, a diversity of breeds were accepted from German Shepherds and Dobermans to Labradors. The German Shepherd has remained the most frequently used dog to this day, such as MWD Nnora who was chosen provide canine security for the 2015 World Meeting of Families where Pope Francis was set to visit from Sept. 22 – 28.
“She’s a monster, one of our most well-rounded dogs as far as detection and patrol goes,” Stefanowcz said. “Nnora was set to detect abnormalities in luggage the other services we were working with deemed suspicious.”
Although real life situations don’t always arise, handlers are able to keep their MWDs ready through training and demonstrations.
“During our demonstrations we show off a lot of bite work and the dog’s ability to maintain its bearings when we are interviewing someone,” Blank said.
He said the handler asks for the person’s identification, then releases the person. Then they call the person back and have them agitate the dog.
“That’s when we will warn the person to stop,” Blank said. “When they don’t, we release the dog.”
The agitator will often be wearing either a body suit or some other form of protection, as the MWD’s fierce bite bears down on them during the simulation.
“It takes a lot of mental preparation to take the bite, knowing that dog is going to bring you down to the ground in an instant,” Blank said.
In the real world, these dogs can come across aggressors in any environment, whether it be combat or not. These confrontations can lead to the MWD getting injured in the line of duty, so a handler is also trained to act quickly.
Blank said the handlers are trained to place an IV, treat heat stress, tend to wounds and more when needed, until they can get the dog to proper care.
“It is very important that they are transported immediately,” he said. “We have a really good working relationship with Mississippi State University and the Army veterinarians that come here as well.”
With no members currently deployed, there are six total MWD and handler teams at Columbus AFB. They provide vehicle detection, law enforcement support and more for the Team BLAZE community.
“The MWD section on any installation is extremely important to the mission and the security of the base,” Blank said.