Devil Dogs keep community safe

16 Aug 2002 | Lance Cpl. Kim Thompson

They are attentive, enthusiastic and motivated. Countless hours of training have contributed to their mental and physical conditioning, making them optimum physical specimens and exemplary Marines.

They are Military working dogs of Fightertown.  The dogs are trained to perform their job with attention to detail and instant obedience to orders.

It may seem like the dogs are having fun working for chew-toys, verbal praise and a scratch behind the ears, but they work as hard as the Marines who handle them.

The Air Station Provost Marshal's kennel is comprised of four dogs, three handlers, a non-commissioned officer-in-charge of training and a kennel master. Each dog is certified in patrol, attack, and the detection of either narcotics or explosives.

Kimbo is a Belgian Melanois and Tommie is a Dutch Shepherd. Their handlers are military police officers Lance Cpls. Felicia A. Bazan and Jacob J. Chiasson. As a part of the Military Working Dog program their primary objective is providing security.

"We provide security for the Air Station, we work as a deterrent to prevent future terrorist attacks and we also assist police departments from Savannah to Charleston," said Cpl. Robert M. Apolinario, MWD training NCO. "I've got a great bunch of Marines working for me."

Dogs and their handlers conduct patrols, go on deployments and help locate lost children. They also participate in demonstrations, assist in suspect apprehension, perform inspections and serve in missions with organizations such as Customs and the Secret Service.

The handlers and their four-legged partners are held to high standards from the first days of training at formal schools, and continuing with their entrance into the fleet.

In order to become a handler, Marines must complete Military Police school in Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. Then attend a 13-week canine school, which is held at Lackland Air Force Base San Antonio, Texas.

"It's a specialized MOS," Bazan said. "They take the top two percent of the MP class and put them up for a board to attend canine school. You have to be a good student and have good conduct. Out of ten Marines they might choose two."

Canine school starts out teaching both students and dogs the basic fundamentals of command and response.  Dogs are trained to respond to both verbal commands and hand signals. Although canines may specialize in narcotics or explosives detection, the commands for both dogs are the same.

"Civilian dogs are trained in German, but we (the Marine Corps) use English," Apolinario said. "The commands have to be uniform throughout the Marine Corps because every 2-3 years a dog switches handlers. Verbal and nonverbal commands are important in case a working environment is loud or requires distance between dogs and handlers."

Once a handler graduates and makes his way into the fleet, he is paired up with a dog. Each handler is responsible for performing their primary duties and taking care of their animal. Working as a handler requires a great deal of time and dedication, according to Bazan and Chiasson.

"It's a lot of training and a lot of work," Bazan said. Each week requires at least five hours of training in order to keep both dogs and handlers certified in detection and patrol.

"We work about 12 to 14 hour shifts and then we train physically after that," Chiasson said. "There is also a great deal of paper work, because every thing we do on a call has to be annotated from start to finish."

Many of the Marines at the PMO kennel agree the best part of their job is the interaction with the dogs.

"A lot of people say that when you work with a human partner, you never know how they're going to react," Bazan said. "With a dog you always know where you stand."

Military working dogs like Tommie and Kimbo provide a valuable service, Bazan said. They may seem cute and furry like the family pet or the friendly neighborhood mutt, but they are skilled service members that deserve respect.

"Don't ask to pet the dogs or catcall them," Apolinario said. "They're MPs. Respect the fact that they have a job to do."