FORWARD OPERATING BASE LAGMAN, Afghanistan - Of all the common sights on forward operating base Lagman, Afghanistan, the sight of the AMK9 dogs is one that often makes people smile.
Eight dogs and their handlers from American K-9 Detection Services LLC, live and work on FOB Lagman. While the dogs are always ready for a friendly petting and a little love from the soldiers, they are also an important part of the force protection measures employed on the base.
There are hundreds of military working dogs deployed throughout Afghanistan in every branch of the military. Serving alongside their handlers, the dogs bring noses to the fight that are said to be a thousand times more sensitive to scent than that of a human. They have the ability to detect explosives before detonation and in so doing, help save service members' lives.
But there aren't enough MWDs to be to go around and that's where AMK9 steps in.
"We're here to fill the gap," said Kyle Lindsey, FOB Lagman's AMK9 kennel master.
On FOBs like Lagman, AMK9 provides dogs able to detect explosives as well as dogs trained in narcotics detection.
The dogs, much like humans, work in eight hour shifts, employing their keen olfactory abilities to check vehicles entering the FOB, packages arriving in the mail and luggage arriving with passengers in much the same way that a customs dog might at any airport. The dogs also routinely check vehicles and buildings on the FOB and areas where people congregate.
Each dog is trained to detect just one category of odors and for good reason.
"Can you imagine, you go out as a dual trained dog out here and he alerts, you don't know if he's alerting for explosives or narcotics" said Tony Villalobos, AMK9 handler and acting trainer at FOB Lagman.
"And if it's explosives, you don't want to go poking around looking for narcotics and find a bomb," Lindsey said.
When the dogs detect a trace of the scent they're trained for, they sit and look expectantly at their handler. Sitting during a search is what the handlers call 'alerting' and lets them know that the dog has found something.
The expectant look however, means the same thing as it does with any dog, and the handlers are happy to comply. The dogs are rewarded with a toy tossed for them to catch and a lot of praise letting them know that they've done a great job.
The job of looking for explosives seven days a week is stressful, so the handlers ensure the dogs get plenty of time to blow off steam.
"They have as much down time as they have training time, spending time with the handler, enjoying themselves," Lindsey said.
"And each dog stays in our rooms, so they hang out with us," Villalobos said.
"More than once a day we get them out and just play ball with them, play with their Kong or take them on walks," Lindsey said.
It is the walks that have allowed the dogs to become endeared to many residents of the FOB who know why the dogs are here, but enjoy forgetting for a few minutes.
"I relax when I see the dogs," said Major Edward Cappellano, Lagman base closure team officer in charge with Company B 427 Brigade Support Battalion. "When I pet them, they remind me of home."