BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan – Staff Sgt. Ulises Gonzalez, 455th Expeditionary Security Forces Group dog trainer, practices some “patrol training” with Mayo, a military working dog, here, Dec. 21, 2012. The training demonstrates the MWD’s ability to attack, on command, any perpetrator that is being uncooperative or attempting to cause harm towards property or personnel. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Chris Willis)
BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan (January 2, 2013) — Tucked into a small corner of this sprawling base is an important cog in its protection.
At the aptly named “Camp Kujo,” the military working dogs of the 455th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron train and prepare to go out on missions both inside and outside the wire, day and night.
“We always have a team out there,” said Staff Sgt. Ulises Gonzalez, 455th ESFS military working dog trainer.
Dogs are used as search animals at entry control points to detect contraband.
“Our dogs are trained on various odors,” Gonzalez said, “to deter anyone from trying to sneak anything on base or if they’re trying to make anything.”
The dogs also go outside the base, helping to detect hidden threats.
“The populace sees them scanning areas, going down roads,” said Gonzalez. “They see these teams that are proficient in what they do, and it makes it harder for them to hide things from us.”
In addition to detection work, the dogs are a visible show of force to anyone contemplating breaching the base perimeter.
“We want that psychological deterrent,” said Gonzalez, deployed here from Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M.
To achieve the desired impact, Gonzalez said, the relationship between a dog and its handler is of utmost importance.
“You want a team that knows each other,” he said, “you want the handler to know the characteristics of that MWD [and] see when the dog is tired or when the dog [has found] something.”
Conversely, Gonzalez said the dog also gets to know the handler.
“That bond is where you get the obedience and trust,” he said. “You’re not relying so much on what we’ve taught in training, you’re relying on instinct and … on that relationship you have with the dog.”
Gonzalez added that he will sometimes go out while a team is on patrol and act as a perpetrator to test their reaction.
“I’ll try to frustrate the handler and the dog to the point where they have to decide whether I’m hostile or not,” he said. “Doing that type of training, where everyone can see how aggressive our dogs are and how obedient, shows if anyone does decide to hop the fence they’d be in a world of hurt.”
MWD handler Senior Airman Pricilla Saenz’s German Shepard, “Mayo,” can appear gentle, even calm as Sanez converses with anyone who approaches them. If a person gets agitated and Saenz has to raise her voice, Mayo instantly perks up and is on the alert. If words fail, as soon as Mayo hears Saenz’s command he leaps into action. As soon as his teeth sink in, they stay there until Saenz can take control of the situation.
Mayo is even trained to attack without the command if he sees his handler is threatened. Saenz echoed Gonzalez’s thoughts on the handler/dog relationship.
“You have to put all your trust in your dog because he is the one who is going to detect anybody on the other side of that fenceline,” said Saenz, who is deployed here from Luke AFB, Ariz., and has worked with Mayo for more than a year.
Staff Sgt. Kristen McKay, 455 ESFS Kennel Master, said she has 100 percent confidence in the Airmen and dogs she supervises.
“We train for any scenario that’s going to be thrown at us,” said McKay, deployed here from Kadena Air Base, Japan. “I don’t think that there’s anything they could try to do that they’re going to get past the dog.”