Air Force Canines Deploy To Support Operation Inherent Resolve
SOUTHWEST ASIA, June 16, 2017 — One of the most crucial military working dog missions in a deployed environment is explosive detection. And, with their expert sense of smell, the dogs provide an invaluable first line of defense. Mission success depends upon the quality of the bond between military working dog handlers and their canine partners.
Air Force Senior Airmen Carlton Isaacson and Omar Araujo are dog handlers assigned to the 407th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron. Both service members and their canine partners are deployed at an undisclosed location here in support of Operation Inherent Resolve.
For the past two years, Isaacson has partnered with an 8-year-old German shepherd named Egon, while Araujo has partnered with German shepherd Syrius for more than a year.
Attention to detail, care, trust and communication are key factors in achieving mission success, Isaacson said.
“Being a canine handler is an around-the-clock job,” he said. “Off-duty time is commonly spent training, cleaning kennels or taking our dogs to the vet for routine appointments or emergencies.”
The bond between dog and handler isn’t always immediate, however. Repetition and effort close the gap between the partners, but it’s the long hours and determination that solidifies the emotional bond they build. Dogs get extremely attached to their handlers, so when a new handler is assigned to them they have to adjust.
“Egon can be extremely stubborn at times. When we were first assigned together, I had to make every move with extreme caution,” Isaacson said. “One of the requirements to become a certified dog team is for a handler to be able to carry the dog and Egon wasn’t having it. After many long days and different types of training, the bond between us could never be stronger and I can carry him for miles now.”
Building Trust, Bonds
Locking in that trust is a huge part of what military working dog handlers work toward when first introduced to their canine partner. Hours, days, weeks, and months are spent trying to become a close-knit team.
Once built, the bond is difficult to break. When Aruajo first met Syrius, it was with his old handler and the connection between the two that made for a slow transition between handlers.
“Every time she left the room, Syrius would sit and stare though the door, waiting for his best friend to come through the door again,” Aruajo added. “That’s what I wanted and that’s what I continue to strive for every day with Syrius.”
Handlers have to find ways to build relationships and trust with their dog partners.
“What I enjoyed most were those quiet moments when all the training was done for the day and after a long walk I could just sit in Syrius’s kennel for hours while he relaxed and napped,” Aruajo said. “I would listen to music, read books or even watch movies until he knew I was the last person he saw at night and the first every morning.”
He added, “There’s no book telling you how to build this bond with your dog. A lot of it is a feeling-out process; some days we gained a lot of ground and others we went backwards. But, I was confident in our partnership.”
Communication is important in any relationship, but it’s lifesaving in combat zones. Not being able to verbally communicate with their partners, dog handlers have to become cognizant of every move and reaction their canines give them to effectively work as a team. Learning each other’s temperament and personality play a huge role in the relationship between dog and handler.
“You have to be able to read your dog in any situation. Knowing what kind of mood your dog is in before and after work,” Araujo said. “Like people, they have bad days. And, if you’re unable to recognize that, you can be endangering his well-being and the team’s effectiveness. The more we’re together, the more I learn about Syrius. Like his behavior, his breathing, heart rate and his working and resting body temperatures.”
Military dog handlers also go through a week-long class on veterinary care for real-world incidents to help care for their dog. They schedule and take their canines to veterinary check-ups and administer medicine when needed.
“Being a handler is challenging, but I can honestly say that I love every minute of it,” Isaacson said. “This has been one of the most rewarding positions I’ve had in my Air Force career.”
[Source: By Air Force Tech. Sgt. Andy M. Kin, 407th Air Expeditionary Group/U.S. DoD -/- Media Relations]
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