A man's best friend, Wingman

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Katrina Heikkinen
  • 341st Missile Wing Public Affairs
Muffled sounds of awe ripple through a crowd on the flighline during a tour of Malmstrom Air Force Base.

Teeth bared and ready to attack, 5-year-old Tom narrows his focus on one person as he demonstrates controlled aggression.

"Good boy Tom," a military working dog handler says as he scratches the Belgian Malinois with a grin.

Whether it's controlled aggression training, anti-terrorism measures or sweeping buildings for narcotics, Tom will never spend more than 12 hours away from his loyal companion, Senior Airman Kyle Kottas, 341st Security Forces Squadron MWD handler.

Although Kottas has been a MWD handler for only six months, he knew he wanted to work with canines long before joining the Air Force.

"As soon as the recruiter told me about this career field, I was sold," Kottas said. "I love that I get to be with my best friend all day long. My favorite part about this job is the challenge of training Tom and seeing how we both learn."

Of the more than 1,200 security forces personnel stationed at Malmstrom Air Force Base, the MWD section consists of seven handlers, one trainer and one kennel master. After completing three months of technical school at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, MWD handlers learn to utilize and train with their individually assigned canine for their police work on a daily basis. After one to two years as a handler, they will attend the advanced MWD supervisor's course, where they will learn to either be a MWD trainer or a kennel master.

"My favorite part about this job is being able to see the team progress from the ground level up," said Staff Sgt. Adam Ring, 341st SFS MWD trainer. "When we get a new canine and handler paired together, the first time out the door they don't look very good. When I can take them from that level to the point where I'm comfortable with sending them out on a bomb threat or with the U.S. Secret Service, it's really the best part. There's a lot of satisfaction that's extremely tangible with this job."

MWDs have the ability to smell human odors, detect adrenaline and find intruders in remote locations. They sweep buildings for intruders, identify explosives, and above all else, help provide safety at Malmstrom Air Force Base.

"The good thing about working in the MWD world is that it's a different aspect of the whole security forces spectrum," Ring said. "It opens up a lot more doors and the knowledge from training and improving canines never runs out."

For one staff sergeant and self-proclaimed 'big dog lover,' he wouldn't want it any other way.

"When I first got into the military, some of my supervisors were prior MWD handlers and I always heard good things about the career field," said Staff Sgt. Ian Miller, 341st SFS handler. "When the opportunity became open for me, I just went for it. Working with dogs for multiple hours a day is a dream job for me."

Although the MWD section members consider themselves lucky to work with 'man's best friend' on a daily basis, from retirement of aging canines, to medical limitations and PCSing, not everything in the MWD world is glamorous.

"The attachment between a handler and a dog is really strong," Ring said. "It's your partner, your friend; it's the one thing you're always worried about. They take care of their handler just as much as the handler takes care of them. Although they're considered pieces of equipment at the Air Force level, it's a lot more than that. Many people get attached to their dogs so much so that they want them to retire, just so they can adopt it and take it home. Our oldest dog, Fritz, was my first handling dog and I'm going to adopt him when he retires."

"He's [MWD] got your back, and you've got his back," Miller said. "The bond with your dog is hard to explain, but every handler knows what it is."