Dogged dedication

By Jeanni Brosius Published April 8, 2012 at 2:49 a.m.
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— A small caravan of vehicles from the 19th Security Forces Squadron Military Working Dog Section finally came to a stop in a remote area on the Little Rock Air Force Base on Tuesday morning.

Standing beside one of the trucks, Staff Sgt. Guillermo Castellano slipped into a pair of coveralls and gear to protect him from a potential assault by Jeck, a German shepherd military working dog.

“Castellano is going to be the perp for the first one,” Tech Sgt. David Wyatt said about the first training mission for the day.

In the back of another truck were three dog crates, each containing a dog that was ready for his mission. The 19th Security Forces Squadron Military Working Dog Section has nine dog handlers and nine military working dogs. The dogs are either Malinois or German shepherds.

Throughout history, man’s best friend has been a companion and protector, and dogs still serve an important role in the military.

“There have been experiments, and there is no electronic device that can defeat the dog’s ability to detect an explosive or narcotics,” said Sgt. Keith Kitchin, kennel master. “To sum it up, they’re a force multiplier. We use their keen senses to help us to detect things we aren’t able to detect, and they are used to protect us and those around us.”

Wyatt is the trainer who was leading the training mission Tuesday, and he explained that Senior Airman David Schulz would lead his dog, Jeck, down a desolate road toward a “village” simulating a real life situation. Jeck has been trained to detect explosives and drugs and to attack people when necessary. The presence of the dog also serves as a psychological deterrent to violence.

Schulz, dressed in full battle rattle, held Jeck’s leash and carried an M-4carbine to be used at a moment’s notice.

“He has a spotter to watch his back, and his job is to watch the dog,” Wyatt said about Schulz.

During the simulated mission, C-130s from the base flew low overhead, but on a real mission, there would be other U.S. military aircraft, such as Predators and Reapers, in the sky watching.

If Jeck detects a roadside explosive, Schulz will mark it with a chemical light stick or a beacon.

“Once the dog responds, we mark the area and run as fast as we can,” Kitchin said. “We then call someone from Explosive Ordinance Disposal to render [the area] safe.”

Just as Jeck detected a simulated explosive, Schulz reacted to gunfire coming from Castellano’s blank-firing weapon.

“About half of our guys have been in a real-world situation,” Kitchin said about the Military Working Dog Section. “They’re entirely dedicated to what they do. It’s a reward to be able to do this job.”

After Jeck took down Castellano, Schulz walked him out of the woods at gunpoint. Jeck stood guard as Schulz searched the “enemy.”

“The dog is our over watch,” Kitchin said. “The dogs are trained to be your backup, and they’ll attack the person if they resist, fight us or fight the dog.”

As Schulz searched him, Castellano made a sudden movement that caused Jeck to stir and make his presence known.

Kitchin said that after a successful mission, the dogs are given their favorite chew toy and allowed to be dogs.

“They’re not always working,” he said. “Ninety percent of the time, we let the dog be a dog.”

Staff writer Jeanni Brosius can be reached at (501) 244-4307or jbrosius@arkansasonline.com.

Three Rivers Edition Writer Jeanni Brosius can be reached at 501-244-4307 or jbrosius@arkansasonline.com.

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