18th SFS works hand-in-paw for defense of Kadena

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Lynette M. Rolen
  • 18th Wing Public Affairs
Military Working Dog handlers play a critical part in the defense of Kadena.

This defense can only be maintained when there is a healthy relationship between a MWD handler and their dog.

The mission is accomplished through teamwork and the bond between a handler and their MWD.

"Without that bond, you're not going to have a good dog team," said Staff Sgt. Dominic LaForest, 18th Security Forces Squadron MWD handler. "That bond is inseparable. Every bond with every dog is different, some bonds will be stronger than others, but for the most part every handler has a bond with their dog and it's crucial for the mission to get done."

With the teamwork of dogs and handlers, the Air Force and its Airmen can be kept safe.

"It's your partner, it's your kid, it's your best friend; you're with them all the time. When you go down range, you're with them 24/7," LaForest said. "It's just like having that person there 24/7 - you have to rely on that dog to save your life, and if you don't have that trust between you and your dog, your dog will sense it and the bond's not going to be there."

To strengthen their bond, both dog and handler go through training together.

"Every day, we're together," said LaForest. "From the minute you pull your dog out to the minute you put your dog back in the kennel, there's always going to be training going on. Any command you give your dog, you're training your dog to be obedient to what they already know."

The dogs go through much training before they are finally paired with a handler. Training begins as early as 10 weeks of age and they are constantly monitored for traits that would make them ideal for military service.

"They start off at Lackland and they go through about a 120-day course, depending on the dog's health," said LaForest. "Half of it is spent for detection training, the other half for patrol training. Once they get here (Kadena), it is just upkeep training, re-instilling what they have already been through."

The handler-MWD team is made more effective with the training that they both receive.

Senior Airman Rena Bissett, 18th SFS MWD handler, commented that there is more than meets the eye about the relationship with her MWD, Judi.

"I do definitely enjoy it," said Bissett. "It's really exciting to learn new things about my dog every day and learn how to be a better team. Because there's a lot more than what meets the eye about the training, and it's just about being a partner with the dog."

Bissett commented that Judi is like a best friend to her.

"I've never really been this close to an animal before," said Bissett. "But when I come to work, if I'm in a bad mood, I usually get in a happy mood just from seeing her and she always does random funny little things that make me happy."

Through this bond, both Bissett and Judi are an effective team.

"I trust her," said Bissett. "I feel that as if something were to really happen, like if someone was trying to hurt me, that she would have my back; it's a good feeling."

LaForest mentioned that he believes this is the best job.

"I've been doing this job for almost six years and I wouldn't trade it for anything," said LaForest. "I get to work with dogs all day. I get to see them grow from the time they get here to the time they retire. It's the greatest job that anybody could ask for."