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They Play Ruff

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Eduardo Alcaraz, 18th Security Forces Squadron military working dog handler, and his military working dog, Sony, pose for a photo Nov. 21, 2018, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. The bond between a military working dog and its handler is founded on trust, and can become unbreakable within their time together.

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Eduardo Alcaraz, 18th Security Forces Squadron military working dog handler, and his military working dog, Sony, pose for a photo Nov. 21, 2018, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. The bond between a military working dog and its handler is founded on trust, and can become unbreakable within their time together. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Cynthia Belío)

18th Security Forces Squadron military working dog, Sony, poses for a photo Nov. 21, 2018, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. The bond between a military working dog and its handler is founded on trust, and can become unbreakable within their time together.

18th Security Forces Squadron military working dog, Sony, poses for a photo Nov. 21, 2018, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. The bond between a military working dog and its handler is founded on trust, and can become unbreakable within their time together. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Cynthia Belío)

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Charles Gamez, 18th Security Forces Squadron military working dog handler, right, commands his military working dog, Biba, to escort Shitetsu Hirata, 18th Security Forces Squadron military working dog assistant trainer, left, Nov. 21, 2018, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. Military working dogs can be trained to aid in capturing, detaining and transporting suspects, as well as identify drugs and improvised explosive devices.

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Charles Gamez, 18th Security Forces Squadron military working dog handler, right, commands his military working dog, Biba, to escort Shitetsu Hirata, 18th Security Forces Squadron military working dog assistant trainer, left, Nov. 21, 2018, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. Military working dogs can be trained to aid in capturing, detaining and transporting suspects, as well as identify drugs and improvised explosive devices. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Cynthia Belío)

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Carlos Howard, 18th Security Forces Squadron military working dog handler, prepares his military working dog, KitKat, to engage a suspect Nov. 21, 2018, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. Military working dogs can be trained to aid in capturing, detaining and transporting suspects, as well as identify drugs and improvised explosive devices.

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Carlos Howard, 18th Security Forces Squadron military working dog handler, prepares his military working dog, KitKat, to engage a suspect Nov. 21, 2018, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. Military working dogs can be trained to aid in capturing, detaining and transporting suspects, as well as identify drugs and improvised explosive devices. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Cynthia Belío)

18th Security Forces Squadron military working dog, KitKat, chases after Shitetsu Hirata, 18th Security Forces Squadron military working dog assistant trainer Nov. 21, 2018, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. Military working dogs can be trained to aid in capturing, detaining and transporting suspects, as well as identify drugs and improvised explosive devices.

18th Security Forces Squadron military working dog, KitKat, chases after Shitetsu Hirata, 18th Security Forces Squadron military working dog assistant trainer Nov. 21, 2018, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. Military working dogs can be trained to aid in capturing, detaining and transporting suspects, as well as identify drugs and improvised explosive devices. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Cynthia Belío)

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman James Burger, 18th Security Forces Squadron military working dog handler, is watched by military working dog, Biba, Nov. 21, 2018, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. Military working dogs can be trained to aid in capturing, detaining and transporting suspects, as well as identify drugs and improvised explosive devices.

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman James Burger, 18th Security Forces Squadron military working dog handler, is watched by military working dog, Biba, Nov. 21, 2018, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. Military working dogs can be trained to aid in capturing, detaining and transporting suspects, as well as identify drugs and improvised explosive devices. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Cynthia Belío)

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Charles Gamez, 18th Security Forces Squadron military working dog handler, right, unleashes his military working dog, Biba, to capture Senior Airman James Burger as he runs away Nov. 21, 2018, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. The bite of a military working dog is intended to subdue a suspect quickly and efficiently.

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Charles Gamez, 18th Security Forces Squadron military working dog handler, right, unleashes his military working dog, Biba, to capture Senior Airman James Burger as he runs away Nov. 21, 2018, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. The bite of a military working dog is intended to subdue a suspect quickly and efficiently. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Cynthia Belío)

KADENA AIR BASE, Japan --

Although it may be tempting, the “Do Not Pet” warning on their vests isn’t a suggestion; military working dogs may be considered one of the 18th Security Forces Squadron’s greatest assets, and most reliable companions.

Most MWDs stationed with 18th SFS come from the 341st Training Squadron at Lackland Air Force Base, where they learn basic obedience and to recognize odors. Upon their arrival at Kadena, MWDs are assigned to a handler and a trainer. The team then has 90 duty days to train the dog in a variety of skills, from apprehending suspects and attacking on command, to detecting explosives and narcotic substances.

“Training is the stepping stone in everything we do,” said Master Sgt. Arthur Sawyer, 18th SFS MWD kennel master, “It all transfers over to explosive detection, defeating narcotics and the protection of military personnel, United States Forces Japan members [and] our local community.”

In order to become an effective team and carry out their primary mission of protecting base personnel and its assets, a handler and their dog must first learn to work together.

While the selecting process can be random, it’s preferred for dogs to be assigned to a handler based on likeness in their personalities. Patience and trust in a team are often vital in order to build a solid foundation; if the duo doesn’t click within their allotted time, the dog gets assigned to a different handler.

“Trust is everything,” said Staff Sgt. Eduardo Alcaraz, 18th SFS MWD handler. “If there’s no trust, I’m going to be second guessing my dog. I’m going to leave something behind or I’m not going to be sure whether I’m making the right call, and it can be potentially fatal.”

Connecting as a team can be a challenging process, but over time the bond between handler and dog can become unlike any other, and sometimes last beyond their designated time together. Repetition, training and spending a lot of time with each other, can turn a pair of strangers into dependable partners.

 “The most rewarding part of the job is watching teams develop,” Sawyer said. “It’s an honor and a blessing [to see] the amount of work that each one of my military working dog handlers and my trainers put in with each one of the military working dog teams. [They] continue to push the limits every single day.”