TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Oklahoma --
Tinker Air Force Base wouldn’t be complete without its team of highly trained military working dogs who work tirelessly to ensure the safety of the 40,000 people that work and live here.
Sgt. James Maloy, 72nd Security Forces Squadron Kennel Master oversees the working dog program and ensures that the dogs stay certified to meet the base commander's intent. The dog teams are trained and then certified in anti-terrorism measures and to detect odors from explosives and drugs.
Each dog goes through a 120-day boot camp at Lackland Air Force Base before they’re sent to their base where it becomes the responsibility of the kennel master, trainer and handler to find weak areas in the dog to build upon.
“These dogs are programmed to find odors, but the heightened senses of smell, hearing and sight make them such a force multiplier,” Maloy said. “There’s no machine that someone can build that can find the odors that the dogs can find because there are so many environmental variables and distractor odors.”
Staff Sgt. James Kilbride is a seasoned dog handler and says that while the work is certainly fulfilling, it’s also continuous in order for the dog to become a certified military work dog. He’s been working with K9 Kali who recently received his certification and is ready to begin his duties with his partner.
“The certification basically shows the base commander, which has been delegated down to our squadron commander, that this human and dog team can effectively search an area and find all the target odors with 100 percent accuracy so they can say they fully trust the dog to be out on the street, to assist secret service and to deploy overseas,” Kilbride said. “It’s the greenlight.”
Kali isn’t the only one who had to go through extensive training, as Kilbride and all who work with the dogs went through an 11-week course to become military working dog handlers. Once the handlers get to the base they continue to advance through training and experience, just like the K9s. They also form a bond with their K9.
“We’re assigned one dog in most cases so typically I’m the only person that works with Kali,” Kilbride said. “That helps strengthen the bond between you and the dog and after a period of time you start learning each other’s behaviors. We have a saying that ‘emotions travel up and down leash’ and even though you can’t directly talk to one another we’re reading the dogs body language and they’re doing the same to us.”
The hard work put into the K9s by their handler and by the K9s into their training prepares them for any mission they might encounter from keeping Tinker safe and identifying explosives, to being tasked to assist secret service for high-ranking government officials.
“The dogs work hard for us because they want to please us, not out of fear, they just really love their job,” Maloy said. “We want to make them happy and they want to make us happy, so it’s give and take.”