CAMP BONDSTEEL, Kosovo - Military Working Dogs have long been a part of force protection; World War I, saw the first use of trained dogs in military service. At that time, handlers were volunteers that used dogs donated by American families.
The Military Working Dog program has evolved over time and is now overseen by the 341st Training Squadron at Lackland Air Force Base, San Antonio, Texas. The joint military program is led by the U.S. Air Force, and has instructors and trainees from all military branches.
Military Working Dogs receive their training at Lackland, where the focus is on two areas: detection and patrol. Detection training teaches the dogs to locate an odor; dogs are trained in either detection of explosives or illegal narcotics. Patrol training consists of aggression and obedience training.
Three U.S. Army Soldiers that completed MWD training at Lackland have spent the better part of a year stationed at Camp Bondsteel, Kosovo, during the most recent rotation of MWD Military Police.
The MWD teams consist of Staff Sgt. Frederick Ferrigno and his dog, Hugo, Sgt. Brandon Hiller, with Chyan, and Spc. Daniel Maier, with Ceno. The group arrived in Kosovo in January 2010.
"As a dog team we act as customs for incoming and outgoing units, conduct Health and Welfare inspections, and search vehicles before they enter Camp Bondsteel," Maier said.
Maier is a narcotics handler from Fayetteville, N.C., and a member of the 615th Military Police Co., Grafenwoehr, Germany. He has been Ceno's handler for two years.
"My dog still has that puppy drive - he likes to get into everything - kind of clumsy at times," Maier said of Ceno, a 5-year-old German Sheppard. "Every single day we work with him there is something new to laugh at or something that he does, during detection, which is humorous, he is kind of like a little kid."
The K9 team falls under the Area Support Team - Balkans here, but has worked with Kosovo Forces and law enforcement within Kosovo.
"We provided searches for logistics packages, security deterrence, and sweeps at special events," Hiller said. "We have done training with (European Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo), Germans, Swiss, Czechs, and local (Kosovo Police) K9 units."
Hiller, a controlled explosives handler, from Glenmont, Ohio, is a member of the 92d Military Police Co., U.S. Army Garrison Schinnen, Netherlands. He has worked with Chyan, an 11-year old Belgian Malinois, since December 2008.
"Belgian Malinois are typically a high drive dog, for example when they do aggression they are anxious to attack," said Hiller. "Their whole body will be shaky, breathing really hard - they never want to give up when they bite."
Chyan shares those qualities, even at his advanced age.
"He is a special dog - he is a old grumpy man - but when he gets excited he is like a two-year-old," Hiller said.
The health of a MWD is a constant concern as the handlers grow a bond with their assigned dog.
"The handler gives the dog their medication - if needed - we feed them, groom them, and bathe them," Hiller said. "We help them keep up with their proficiency in detection, obedience, and aggression."
The dogs are given basic training, but it is up to the handler to continue to work with and care for their animals.
Working is a game to them, every part of their job is a game - obedience, aggression, detection training is structured to be fun for them with the reward being positive attention, Hiller said.
"You teach them to find something, and when they find it you give them a toy and play with them," he said.
"We try to advance the dog constantly, we want to make the training harder than the last time basically to get the dog better," Ferrigno added.
Ferrigno, from Long Branch, N.J., has been in the Army for 11 years and is the noncommissioned officer in charge of the MWD team at Bondsteel. He works with Hugo, a 9-year-old German Sheppard.
"Hugo is a very friendly dog. He loves a lot of attention. If he is not getting attention he will find a way to get it," Ferrigno said. "As far as working aspect he is one of those dogs -and most Sheppards are - that are happy pleasing people and he can tell when he is doing something right."
Ferrigno said he and Hugo were one of the few dog teams to move together on a reassignment; they went from Ft. Myer, Va., to Heidelberg, Germany. MWD are usually assigned to a specific kennel, but an upcoming deployment kept the team together.
As NCOIC, Ferrigno tends to administrative, leadership, and planning responsibilities, but those are not his most important concerns, as being a handler comes first.
"We ensure they get their check-up, their shots and we bathe the dogs, to include cleaning the runs when necessary to ensure sanitary conditions," Ferrigno said. "As for medical, we are trained on the basic first aid for the dog. If there is a little issue we can handle that."
For Maier and Hiller, this is the first time each has deployed as a dog handler. Hugo and Ferrigno were deployed to Afghanistan in 2009.
Prior to being a dog handler, Ferrigno deployed to Camp Bondsteel in 2002 as an MP under the 1st Infantry Division with KFOR.
This may be the last run for two of the dogs that are scheduled to retire after this deployment. Chyan and Hugo are expected to be living civilian lives after being put out for adoption following their current rotation.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16