Story by TSgt Daniel Martinez on 07/29/2019Every military branch has its own version of the wingman concept where service members look after, care and help one another like family. But what if your wingman happens to be a dog?
For Staff Sgt. Kathryn Malone, 386th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron military working dog handler, developing the bonds of wingmanship with her MWD, Uurska, includes lots of play time.
"It's exciting because when you first get paired as a team, that initial time period is to have fun and build rapport," said the Airman deployed from the 55th Security Forces Squadron, Offutt Air Force Base, Neb. "We've built our bond and relationship by taking lots of walks, playing fetch and Frisbee."
Malone was paired with the three-year-old Belgian Malinois only three months ago and arrived here with Uurska in July. Similar to their human counterparts, MWD's will in-process at their new duty location, which includes an initial visit to the veterinarian, familiarization with the base and adjusting to record heat temperatures.
"The dogs must go through an acclimation period," she said. "It's usually about a two week acclimation time, but it could take more time or less. Every dog is different, but two weeks is a good rule of thumb."
While play time is an effective bonding method, Malone ensures that she and Uurska are always trained and prepared to carry out their duties. Together they patrol the base in vehicle or on foot and take time to meet people.
For instance, when Malone walked Uurska into the Base Exchange while on foot patrol, many people couldn't help but stop to look, smile and start conversation. Although these situations are common, there's something meaningful about these interactions.
"It's a psychological deterrent everyone knows what our dogs do and what they're capable of," Malone said. "When we're out and about, it might deter people with bad intentions from doing something. Although we're trained to respond to real world situations, I would say that a boring day is a good day."
MWD's have an allure that often demands respect, admiration, curiosity and fear. MWD's can be trained to accomplish specific tasks including explosive detection or taking down a fleeing assailant.
"Military working dogs contribute directly to the safety and security of all personnel on base," said Tech. Sgt. Enrique Diaz, 386th ESFS NCO-in-charge of the kennel section deployed from Hill AFB, Utah. "The biggest take away is to ensure nothing happens while we're here and all the knowledge and training that these handlers have, they pass it on to the next generation. That's how dog training evolves."
With that sentiment in mind, Malone is using the time she has being deployed with Uurska to train and strengthen their bond. She said her goal is to become the most effective MWD team they can be while continuing to grow together.
All in all, when the duty day ends and it's time for Uurska to return to her kennel to get some rest, she'll find a way to get Malone to help her unwind. To an unlucky individual, she might bark ferociously as saliva drips from her teeth, lips snarling, but when she feels like a cute puppy she'll walk into Malone and expect belly rubs.
"She rolls into me and nuzzles me to pet her," Malone said. "It's pretty funny, she's super goofy about it. After that she'll calm down and just lay her head on me."
For Malone, she can't imagine having a better wingman and believes that being a MWD handler is the best job in the Air Force.
"You get to work and hang out with your best friend nothing beats that," she said.