Man’s best friend keeps Nellis safe

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Jake Carter
  • 99th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
Moving rapidly from building to building, a valuable Air Force asset closes in on an adversary's location. The target manages to evade custody for only a matter of moments before the asset picks up the target's scent, discovers their exact location, and neutralizes the threat with brutal efficiency. In this scenario, the asset is a military working dog and the target is MWD handler posing as a hostile person during a training event.

Staff Sgt. Logan Fitzgerald, 99th Security Forces Squadron MWD handler, has been a handler for over five years and works with Erik, whom has been his companion for over a year. Together, they and their fellow wingmen perform numerous day-to-day duties to protect Nellis AFB.

"For day-to-day operations, we work on the flightline, conduct building checks, respond to building alarms, perform walking patrols, training and any type of law enforcement event," said Fitzgerald. "We are also able to respond to any bomb threat or suspicious packages. But if we are not performing any of these, we are constantly training."

Senior Airman David Wells, 99th SFS commander's support staff, recently was selected to become a MWD handler and has been working with MWD handlers until he leaves for training.

"I first saw dog training when I was in technical training. They did a demonstration and I thought it was really cool and wanted to do that one day," said Wells. "I think the mission is very important, so the fact that I get to participate in different training scenarios is awesome."

During MWD handler training, Airmen learn the basic steps to becoming a handler while gradually learning more techniques.

"The first thing you will learn at training is basic obedience with dogs and how to train dogs," said Fitzgerald. "You work on controlled aggression and after that will be detection, which consists of bombs and narcotics."

According to Fitzgerald, technical training is not the last stop in learning how to be a handler, because on-the-job training is crucial for both MWDs and handlers alike.

"We always want to better our dogs and ourselves by learning new techniques," said Fitzgerald. "We can teach our dogs to listen to our voice from 100 yards away, we can teach them certain ways to do things, but they are dogs so we constantly have to work with them."

Although Fitzgerald has been paired with Erik for little over a year, he knows that he will eventually have to move on to another dog to learn new techniques and continue his training.

"If you are partnered with the same dog over and over again, you're going to learn a lot but every dog is different," said Fitzgerald. "No dog is the same and it gets to the point that the kennel master sees you have taken the dog as far as you can, so he will switch (partners)."

Fitzgerald learned from Erik first hand that if a dog and handler are together for too long, the dog can develop a dependence on the handler and make it difficult for the dog to work with another handler.

"When I picked Erik up, he had been with his previous handler for four years," said Fitzgerald. "I couldn't get him to do anything for me. When he would see his old handler he would just run straight to him. It took me a good three months for him to trust me."

After Erik finally started to trust Fitzgerald, working with each other was a lot easier.

"We have to build rapport with our dogs," said Fitzgerald. "Sometimes it takes a couple days, but it could take a month or longer."

Anyone interested in becoming a MWD handler must be part of the security forces career field already. Applicants must also have a physical completed, and their leadership's approval.

"You also have to come to the kennels and work with other dog handlers by helping out with cleaning and learning the job," said Fitzgerald. "You have to show up here, watch our training and show that you want to do this before going to training."

The knowledge gained by being a MWD handler is never-ending; with each day bringing a new set of tasks to complete.

"There's an endless amount of knowledge and we are never done learning," said Fitzgerald. "There's so many ways to train dogs and we do it. I love doing this job and I think it's the best in the Air Force."