Dog kennel opens for MHG canines

9 Aug 2004 | Lance Cpl. J.C. Guibord

Few service members have to worry about taking their roommates on walks or bathroom breaks.

Now dog handlers at Camp Fallujah, Iraq, can rest easy knowing their four-legged coworkers have a new kennel to call home, with the only bright, green grass on the base.

"We'll be here for a significant amount of time with canine support, so we felt we needed long-term billeting," said Gunnery Sgt. William H. Kartune, the I Marine Expeditionary Force kennel master.

The handlers put on a demonstration July 26, inviting personnel at Camp Fallujah to see the dogs in action at their new kennel. The demonstration attracted a large crowd of onlookers, while the handlers directed the military working dogs to take down mock "suspects" in large, padded suits.

"We mostly work entry control points, searching all the contractor vehicles and civilian vehicles that are coming on base," said Air Force Staff Sgt. Cleophus Gallon, an augment from the 52nd Security Forces Squadron, 52nd Fighter Wing, U.S. Air Forces Europe. "(The handler and dog are) partners - we're a team. Where he's sniffing, I'm looking. It makes you look places you normally wouldn't."

It's these qualities that make military working dogs prized weapons in the fight against anti-Iraqi forces.

"There is good coordination between the dog and the instructor," said Lt. Col. Amer A. Ahmad, an officer with the Iraqi Special Forces who attended the demonstration. "I would definitely love to use them because they're good for sniffing bombs at vehicle checkpoints."

The airmen also accompany Marine units on sweeps for improvised explosive devices, a major hazard to convoys on Iraq's major supply routes.

"We've been out on patrol... a few times," said Gallon, one of four Air Force dog handlers assigned to the I MEF Headquarters Group. "Most times, we go together as a squad, so if a dog handler goes down, someone's there to secure (the dog), grab his leash."

And while the airmen are armed, just like a Marine, a dog handler's primary weapon isn't his rifle.

"He's not going out there with his weapon up," Gallon said while mimicking holding a rifle at the ready. "He has to hold the leash and watch what the dog's doing."

But the handlers don't seem to mind.

"It gives me a great adrenaline rush," said Cpl. Jose R. Chavez, a dog handler assigned to Regimental Combat Team 1. "I've got that great weapon - you feel like you can take on pretty much any challenge."