Marches prepare dogs, handlers for worldwide mission
By Senior Airman Shawn Nickel, 9th RW Public Affairs
/ Published January 10, 2012
BEALE AIR FORCE BASE, Calif., -- Although the trainers at the 9th Security Forces Squadron military working dog flight say their dogs' teeth are its most important weapon, they must keep all parts of these animals body's fit to fight and their skills sharp.
By going on long ruck marches across base and training together outside their kennels, these teams prepare for their mission to support combatant commanders around the world.
Staff Sgt. Victor Sanez, 9th SFS trainer and kennel master, said with today's fight, Airmen are often called on missions outside the wire requiring teams to walk long distances on patrols.
"Things have changed a lot when it comes to our day to day mission while deployed," he said. "This causes us to have to stay prepared for that while at home station. These dogs need to have their paws acclimated to long walks and the trainers need to be comfortable wearing all their equipment and weapons."
Each Airman dons a full combat ensemble, a simulated weapon and a backpack weighing upwards of 70 pounds. At the beginning of the march Sanez briefs the team on safety, goals of the hike, and proper procedures, but after the march begins each Airman speaks to no one but their dog.
"This is an important opportunity for us to build rapport with our dogs and to become confident in our skills," said Staff Sgt. Bryan Bowermaster, who is preparing for his first deployment as a military working dog handler.
Bowermaster said the most beneficial portion of the marches for him and his dog, Edy, has been simulated ordnance or aggressors placed along the march.
"It feels like the real thing and keeps you on your toes," he said.
Sanez said they do their best to simulate real world situations found during a deployment. Marches are often off road on rocky trails. Objects simulating ordnance are placed along the trail and aggressors are used to teach dogs to stay alert.
In addition, each handler carries the dog for a portion of the march.
"This is a very important exercise for the dog and the handler," Sanez said. "In the event of a stream crossing or an injury the dogs have to be used to this and the Airman has be able to perform the task comfortably."
Each member of the flight marches at least once a week while keeping up with other training requirements as well as care and maintenance of the animals and kennels.
"We have to always be ready for anything, keep our dogs living areas clean and keep them healthy," said Sanez. "We have an important job and we take it very seriously."