MWD training takes flight
By Staff Sgt. Mackenzie Mendez, 92nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
/ Published August 30, 2018
FAIRCHILD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. -- The rotor blades rocked the air, sending dust and grass into the faces of the waiting handlers. The UH-1N Huey was coming in to land, returning one of the Military Working Dog teams to the ground. The bees buzzed around the wild flowers, the dogs chewed away on their toys and the next handler prepared to board.
Throughout the month of August, the 92nd Security Forces Squadron MWD section trained with the 36th Rescue Squadron to learn and become familiar with the components of a huey aircraft in preparation for deployment missions.
“The huey training provides the baseline needed for MWD team tasks and future deployments requiring huey knowledge and experience,” said Staff Sgt. Daniel Tabita, 92nd SFS MWD handler. “The experience gained from this type of training is incredibly valuable for all MWD teams.”
The training began with hands-on familiarization of the helicopter for the handlers and their dogs.
“Training with MWDs is not a normal event for us and flying with them was only part of the puzzle,” said Capt. Kevin Quale, 36th RQS chief of safety. “Planning was essential for the safety of the dogs and crew.”
The 36th RQS spent numerous hours teaching the handlers how to load and unload their dogs, how to safely fly with a canine and basic egress training in case of an emergency. Handlers were able to get eyes on the inside of the aircraft and understand seating for both crew and passengers.
With a consistently changing operating environment, ensuring the crew and any passengers are properly trained is of the utmost importance, Quale said.
Following the cold-engine familiarization, the 36th RQS started up the engines, replicating the stimuli found in theater; the beating of the blades, the roar of the engine and the smell of exhaust.
“When the engines start up, the handlers’ attention should be on their dogs, detecting any behavioral changes,” said Staff Sgt. Justin Benfer, 92nd SFS MWD kennel master. “Some dogs will be comfortable while others might be timid, it is up to the handler to read and understand how their dog is reacting.”
For nearly every dog, it was their first time all four paws have left the ground. For a MWD team, being prepared before heading downrange is imperative to ensuring they meet deployment objectives.
“The mission downrange can take numerous forms: clearing roadways, escorting distinguished visitors or even locating missing persons,” Benfer said. “The first time a MWD team flies together shouldn’t be in a deployed location. By being proactive, we are able to safely prevent injury to aircrew, handlers and the dogs.”
The training pushed the aircrew and MWD teams out of their comfort zones, blurring the boundaries between aircrew and SFS personnel.
“We are always trying to advance the training for our handlers and dogs,” Benfer said. “Including outside agencies in various training scenarios gives us the opportunity to impact other Airmen, help them prepare for unique missions and build lasting partnerships.”