By Spc. Noelle WieheNovember 12, 2019
FORT STEWART, Ga. -- Canines assigned to the 93rd Military Working Dog Detachment, 385th Military Police Battalion, 16th Military Police Brigade, have several duties on Fort Stewart, Georgia, and in theater while deployed. It is through the drive and special care by their handlers they are capable of fulfilling those duties.
"Military Working Dogs are one of the greatest psychological deterrents in the war on terror and protect our military and civilian population on a daily basis," said Staff Sgt. Ryan Borjas, kennel master, 93d MWD Det.
A spotlight is being shone on military working dogs, following the Belgian Malinois involved in the raid that targeted, and ultimately led to the capture of the Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The leader, Baghdadi, was one of the world's most wanted men, but died during a U.S. operation in the Syrian province of Idlib.
Canines assigned to the 93d MWD Det., such as Sgt. Laco and Sgt. Riki, are capable of performing their duties thanks to Spc. Anthony Jordan and Spc. Connor Pszenny, who are just two of several handlers who come to work every day with passion for what they do.
"I feel truly, the Soldiers here at the Fort Stewart kennels do come to work every day, work hard, have a passion for the job and are good Soldiers," Borjas said.
Several military working dogs call the kennel at Fort Stewart- a U.S. Army Forces Command medium-sized kennel - home.
The MWDs - typically Belgian Malinois - come from a puppy program, from which they are fostered from birth until they are old enough to begin training for their jobs as MWDs.
They receive their names at birth and start initial training between 1 and 1-and-a-half-years old, Borjas said. The dogs come from Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland Air Force Base, or occasionally are bought by MWD handlers from other vendors - typically Czech, Dutch or German shepherds. All Fort Stewart MWDs are trained at JBSA-LAK on basic obedience, basic detection, and basic patrol work (bite work), Borjas said.
Service members from the U.S. Navy, Marine Corps, Army and Air Force conduct training with these dogs destined for military careers, and Borjas said these trainers are chosen based on a recommendation from their kennel masters.
"We have all of - typically - the better dog trainers from all of the branches there at Lackland Air Force Base," Borjas said.
They begin training on capabilities of finding any and all explosives and narcotics and patrol work, including scouting - finding people injured or hiding in buildings, at JBSA-LAK, Borjas said. Then, they are progressed at their duty station.
Each dog is seen regularly by the Fort Stewart Veterinary Clinic on post and treated accordingly for their medical issues. They are fed and exercised daily as well as worked five days a week on the duties required of them.
MWDs assigned to work on Fort Stewart will remain on Fort Stewart for the duration of their military careers, with the exception of special missions and deployments. The dogs do not change duty stations with their handlers, Borjas said. Instead, the dogs adapt and learn to bond with new handlers as permanent change of duty station situations occur. In addition, each MWD outranks their handler by one rank.
Dogs trained through the Patrol Explosive Detection Dog-Enhanced have advanced capabilities and are taught at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Borjas said these dogs do PCS with their handlers, except for in rare cases.
Spc. Brady Stanger, MWD handler, 93d MWD Det., has been working with Sgt. Bundas, a 7-year-old, longhaired German Shepherd, for three-and-a-half years, and said training the MWD is all about consistency. Stanger said it took about six months for Bundas to bond with him.
"He is super loyal; he'll do anything to protect his handler," Stanger said. "He was a little bit more stubborn until he realized I was (his handler) now."
Stanger said he grew up training hunting dogs with his father in Minnesota. He said he always wanted to work as a policeman, but knew when he joined the military that he wanted his career to involve dogs.
"When I trained dogs with my dad, we trained the dog and they went out and did their own thing based on their training," Stanger said. "With the training here, it is very much the handler and working dog working as a team. Me and Bundas go through literally every day together; from sunup to sundown, we're together."
Bundas got protective of Stanger as he approached a belligerent person on post, and that was the moment Stanger knew they had bonded as handler and MWD.
"That was when I thought, 'Okay, this is actually real now; he actually cares,'" Stanger said.
Every dog team that is certified could possibly deploy, Borjas said. He has personally deployed twice as a MWD handler, and the detachment currently has several dog teams deployed.
Borjas said one of the most important things in the military occupation specialty - 31K - is to have passion for the job, to be consistent with that passion and to consistently come to work every day with that passion.
Pzenny was seeking a unique job within the military when he decided on 31K. He has been working with 2-year-old Sgt. Riki for approximately four months.
"Riki is an extremely high-intensity, high-strung dog, and I've had to adapt to him because I'm not as high strung," Pzenny said. "You have to work with the dog to get him to like you."
Passion for animals and the work those animals do is key, but just as important is the bond the handler has with the MWD to ultimately form a MWD team, Borjas said. That bond can be strengthened in many ways, depending on the individual dog. Borjas said just grooming, walks and being positive builds rapport within the team.
"It always goes back to the MWD team factor," Borjas said.
Those teams, once that bond is formed, can accomplish tasks and military missions, whether that be keeping Dogface Soldiers drug free before they even enter post or being part of a raid to capture a U.S. enemy in theater.
There is no strict age for a MWD to retire from his duties, but Borjas said when the vet deems them unfit for service they are able to retire. The MWD is first offered to their most recent handler for adoption, and if they can't take the dog, a good home is found with another handler or someone who has worked closely with the dogs, so the dog can live out the remainder of its years.