FORT STEWART, Ga. -- Gino, a U.S. Army military working dog assigned to the 93rd Military Working Dog Detachment, 385th Military Police Battalion, is currently a semi-finalist in the American-Humane Hero Dog Awards.
The AHHDA is an annual nationwide competition and the nominees include civilian service, police and military working dogs who stand out as assets to their teams and are reliable in their service. As part of the 3rd Infantry Division, Gino is a true "Dogface Soldier," trained in patrol and drug detection.
"He knows when it's work time and when it's [relaxation] time," said Sgt. Dustin Simpson, Gino's handler. "Whenever we go on missions in the field, he's sleeping right there next to me. However, as soon as I give him the command, he's ready to work."
Many of their experiences working together include serving in the field, traveling and working at temporary duty locations, working patrols on roads and training in diverse environments. Gino successfully completes building searches and assignments that require him to sniff through forested areas to locate people. Throughout their time together, Simpson also notes that Gino has been his roommate and shares his bed when they're working in the field.
One of Simpson's favorite memories from the two years he's been working as Gino's handler is when they participated in the Marine Corps tracking program in San Antonio, Texas. The program is designed for combat tracker dogs to search for and find the ‘bad guys’. Often, breeds such as Bloodhounds are known to be elite in their tracking skills. However, Gino is able to track footsteps and locate people two kilometers away, exceeding expectations for his breed. To Simpson, their certification in the training program is a huge milestone few Army MWD handlers have earned.
For a military dog and their handler to be successful, they need certifications showing they are a reliable and capable team. Before joining the Army, Simpson didn't believe he was living his purpose until he learned about this career and signed his contract.
MWDs are trained and skilled in multiple tasks according to their specialties. The 93rd MWD Det. has dual purpose dogs, which means they're trained in two specialties. The dogs are either trained in both explosive detection and patrol or drug detection and patrol. Explosive detection dogs primarily serve in overseas deployments, which requires training in route clearance, locating improvised explosive devices and dangerous contraband. Drug detection dogs are primarily used for garrison work, health and welfare searches through barracks, and for law enforcement of both military and civilian personnel.
"They can find and smell things that we can't or we wouldn't know are there until they alert us," said Simpson.
Although Gino primarily serves in garrison work at Fort Stewart, Simpson believes he has the potential for deployment missions. Simpson says Gino's drive is constant, and he shows willingness to work to achieve goals whether in hot or cold training environment conditions. He also mentions that, for the dogs, this work is all fun and they are always rewarded.
"It's definitely a unique job. It's a unique experience," said Simpson about his four years as an MWD handler.
Simpson adds there are not many careers where you can work with a dog from the start of your journey and get paid to train and play with them, but it's also challenging. He clarifies that a handler's schedule isn't a 9-to-5 workday. The 93rd MWD Det. has both drug and explosive handlers on-call for any kind of threat or issue that may arise.
"I'm willing to see where the wind takes us," Simpson said.
He looks forward to sharing many more years, experiences and achievements with his best friend and comrade, Gino.