News from CONUS
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MEXICAN BORDER -- Staff Sgt. Joseph Saputo and his military working dog, Nero, pose with more than 25 pounds of cocaine worth more than $375,000. The team found the drugs while on temporary duty supporting the U.S. Bureau of Customs and Border Protection here. They are assigned to the 21st Security Forces Squadron at Peterson Air Force Base, CO.

Dog team assists with drug bust
by Staff Sgt. Shane Sharp
21st Space Wing Public Affairs

05/13/03 - PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. (AFPN) -- A 21st Space Wing military working dog team was key in a recent bust on the Mexican border that netted $375,000 worth of cocaine. 

Staff Sgt. Joseph Saputo and his dog, Nero, both from the 21st Security Forces Squadron, were on temporary duty supporting the U.S. Bureau of Customs and Border Protection.

"We were called to search a car," said Saputo. "Nero showed a big interest underneath both rear wheels, so we opened the trunk and let him search it. He immediately responded. Customs agents removed the back seat (where) they found a compartment with 25.83 pounds of cocaine."

This was just one of the many hiding places Saputo and Nero saw during their three months on the border. 

"It was pretty crazy to see how many different ways people tried to hide drugs," said Saputo. "We saw drugs found in false floors, gas tanks, dash boards, door panels, roofs and even tires. Some people just toss it in the trunk."

Some hiding places are more creative.

"One of the hardest loads to discover was in a propane tank," said Saputo. "An X-ray of a vehicle carrying a propane tank only showed the side of the tank. A second X-ray showed a storage compartment, a dog alerted on it, and then it didn't sound right when it was tapped on. There were drugs inside."

Drug traffickers have many schemes to get drugs over the border. One bust came in the form of painted vehicles.

"One group of smugglers painted a couple (of) vehicles to look like U.S. Border Patrol vehicles," said Saputo. "They stuffed the vehicles full of drugs and tried to come through the border, but they got busted."

All of the experiences served as an educational opportunity for the K-9 team.

"It was a really good experience to work with customs agents and see how their dogs respond," said Saputo. "Customs dogs train with (a) large variety of odors, so they are exposed to a lot more things. We got to train with them once a week. It taught me . how to conduct more thorough searches."

"Handlers definitely benefit from the real-world experience they get working with customs," said Tech. Sgt. Richard Vanwinkle, 21st SFS kennel master. "They get to experience an aspect of the job they won't see on an Air Force base."

(Story re-printed courtesy of AFNEWS - Air Force Print News )

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Staff Sgt. Rodney Dove recently adopted Barry after the military working dog retired from active military service. Dove is a dog handler assigned to the 90th Security Forces Squadron at F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyo. (Photo by Mark Crabtree) 



From Biscuits to Gravy

by Master Sgt. Cliff Anderson and Staff Sgt. Shon Tiechiera, 90th Security Forces Squadron

03/10/03 - F.E. WARREN AIR FORCE BASE, Wyo. (AFPN) -- Barry has retired from the 90th Space Wing Security Forces here after 11 years of battling crime. He was obedient, loyal, vigilant and protective.

Barry was an ideal military working dog.

The Air Force purchased Barry in 1991 for $3,500 from a Belgium breeder. He was one of only three Belgium Turvueren dogs actively deployed in the entire Air Force. The breed is distinguished by their long hair and charcoal color.

After completing a physically demanding and mentally challenging K-9 training course at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, Barry was assigned to Warren -- his first and only duty station -- as an explosives detection dog.

Throughout his career, Barry served in a variety of roles, including four deployments overseas supporting Operation Southern Watch.

During his tour here, Barry searched thousands of vehicles and buildings, and he provided special protection to dignitaries like Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.

He served with nine different handlers and earned a 98 percent proficiency rate in explosive detection.

Until recently, retirement wasn't an option for military working dogs. Those dogs that could no longer perform their full duties in a field assignment were either sent back to Lackland to train new handlers or were offered to civilian law enforcement agencies.

Now Barry and other dogs like him can be adopted after their military service, thanks to the Robby Bill, passed by Congress three years ago. Robby was the first military working dog to be formally adopted, opening the doors to hundreds of dogs following a successful military career.

A dog's retirement from the military is similar to a person's -- some paperwork has to be done before they go.

First, a veterinarian identifies the dog as physically unable to perform assigned duties. This usually occurs between the 10- to 12-year mark. At the end of a military working dog's career, the dog is worth an estimated $75,000 based on experience and training. As a valuable asset, the next step is to deem the dog "non-deployable or stateside deployment only."

The dog's records are then sent to Lackland for a full medical review board. In Barry's case, the board concurred with the veterinarian's request to retire him.

Next, the dog is offered to local law enforcement or prior Air Force handlers depending on how old the dog is and its aptitude for continued law enforcement service outside of the military. Then, an interview process is conducted to find suitable homes for the dogs to live out their remaining years.

Staff Sgt. Rodney Dove, a base dog handler, was part of Barry's interview process. Dove's adoption application was approved after Barry was not claimed for local law enforcement duties. Dove's adoption approval was a popular one, not only with the handler, but also with squadron members.

"This is the first retirement of a military working dog that I've witnessed in 12 years of active duty service," said Staff Sgt. Jack Waid of the 90th Security Forces Squadron commander's support staff. "It was great to see a handler adopt him."

Upon retirement, the 90th SFS commander presented Barry with retirement orders and an unofficial but highly appropriate "Meritorious Service Medal." 

(Story re-printed courtesy of AFNEWS - Air Force Print News )

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Military Working Dogs,

Handlers Train for Mission Success

Air Force News | Omar Villarreal | February 06, 2006

MACDILL Air Force Base, Fla. - Author Corey Ford once wrote, “Properly trained, a man can be dog’s best friend.”

For 12 highly trained servicemembers here, the military working dog, or MWD, is not only their friend but their trusted companion, loyal follower and No. 1 teammate.

But, this team like so many others comes from lots of hard work and good communication skills from both sides of the team.

"You really have to want to be a MWD handler," said Tech. Sgt. Randall Nelson, 6th Security Forces Squadron MWD kennel master. "It takes a lot of extra effort getting into this program and a lot more maintaining a working relationship with your dog."

At 1 to 2 years old, German shepherds and Belgian Malanois are selected and purchased for MWD duty. These are the two most common MWD breeds. Once selected, the dogs begin a 60 to 90 day training regime at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. This is where the dogs are first taught to detect either explosives or drugs. They also learn deterrence training and how to protect their handlers at all times.

Servicemembers who want to become handlers must also meet strict requirements. They must be in the security forces career field and must be a senior airman or higher in rank. They must have at least 33 months time in service and have their five-level skill rating complete. They must also get the base kennel master’s approval to be selected.

Once selected, the Airmen attend Lackland’s 11-week long MWD handler’s course. The handlers-in-training meet their new best friend and begin learning to control their dog and work with their dog. The handlers also learn how to read their dog’s behavior.

"Training is the key to the success of the MWD team," said Tech. Sgt. Daniel Ellis, squadron MWD trainer. "Once a handler gets paired with a MWD they must learn to work as one."

Working as a team doesn't come instantly either. Military working dog handlers usually work 12 to 14 hour days including weekends. They spend this time training, feeding, grooming and ensuring their dog is 100 percent mission capable.

"It's like taking care of a 3 to 4-year-old (child,)" Sergeant Ellis said. "Everyday is different and there is always something to do when you work with (military working dogs.)"

All the extra effort the teams put forth offer some unique incentives.

The dogs get verbal praise from their best friend and can play with their favorite rubber ball or toy for doing a good job. The handler gets the opportunity to work with one of the finest tools the military has to offer.

Questioning whether or not to put a little extra effort in each day to be successful isn't even a thought for the teams -- who see yet another kind of incentive on the job whether doing their daily patrols on base or like one MacDill AFB MWD team currently deployed to the streets of a war zone.

Staff Sgt. Michael Hendricks and his dog, Conny, are deployed with the 101st Airborne Division at Camp Speicher, Tikrit.

Their primary mission is to support the division by searching for weapon caches, conducting no-notice traffic control points as well as providing security and safety to the servicemembers deployed with them.

During recent elections in the city of Bayji, Iraq, the time, training and skills of the MacDill AFB duo proved to be “invaluable” as Sergeant Hendricks and Conny found two 130mm shells filled with C-4 explosives, one pound of C-4 and one improvised explosive device.

Sergeant Hendricks said the teams’ success can be credited to the trust and knowledge both dog and handler have from working together.

“I trust in my dog's abilities," Sergeant Hendricks said. "I know what Conny can and can’t do and we go from there."

Sergeant Hendricks said the MWD team in Iraq and at home has become a necessity, because MWDs are able to search and find explosives and contraband, which people could never find.

"If MWDs were unavailable, lives would be at stake," he said.

Like so many others, MacDill AFB's MWD section has some of the most well-trained teams the Air Force has to offer. And, their efforts -- the long training and hours of trust and friendship between dog and handler -- help keep the team one sniff ahead of the bad guys -- providing safety for service members and their families, as well as potentially saving thousands of lives around the world.  





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