Luke's canine unit brings safety, security to base

LUKE AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz. -- Animals are a part of everyday life. When it comes to security and safety in and around base, the military working dog plays an important role as a four-legged level of protection. 

The 56th Security Forces Squadron military working dog section at Luke has a number of canines assigned to the unit to include German shepherds and Belgian Malinois. 

The canines are usually purchased in Europe or through the Defense Department's puppy program. They receive initial training at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, which lasts from three to six months. 

After training at Lackland, each dog is sent to a base and is then assigned a primary handler. That canine remains with the handler until the handler changes duty stations. The canines remain at one base its entire military life, which is around 10 years. 

"You spend more time with your dog than with a human sometimes," said Tech. Sgt. Kevin Maticka, 56th Security Forces Squadron NCO in charge of the military working dog section. "That's your partner, so you do get attached." 

Security forces members are not assigned as military working dog handlers, but have to be selected for the position. 

"Being a dog trainer and handler is challenging and rewarding," said Staff Sgt. Paul Barentine, 56th SFS military working dog trainer. "You have to interview and submit a package for the position. The package is then forwarded to the Air Force Personnel Center." 

Once accepted the security forces member attends training at Lackland. 

The DOD-run school lasts for three months. 

One of the duties of the canines is to deploy with their handlers. 

Kisma, an 8-year-old Belgian Malinois, returned in May from a sevenmonth deployment to Camp Victory, Iraq, with handler Sergeant Barentine. 

"Kisma lived with me 24-7 in a tent with four other handlers and their dogs," said Sergeant Barentine. "We ate together and slept together in the same tent. When I spoke to my wife, Kisma was there. You develop a bond. They are never a pet, but a partner." 

When dogs and handlers deploy, the dog has its own mobility bag which contains first aid equipment for the dog. 

"It's been very rewarding working with dogs," said Staff Sgt. Adam Leslie, 56th SFS Military working dog handler. "I've gotten to be involved in assisting the secret service when President George Bush and other distinguished visitors came to Luke. It adds a whole new scope of reaction to security." 

Security for the base and the people living here is the main objective of the canine unit. Members of the military working dog section develop a sense of pride doing their job at Luke. 

"Each day I go home, I feel proud that Luke is safer and more secure because of the impact that the dog teams bring to the base by doing deterrence and detection," Sergeant Maticka said. 

On Oct. 31, Kisma will be honored at the Hero Awards Ceremony sponsored by Friends of Animal Care and Control for his service to our country. The FACC organization works to save pets from unnecessary harm, finds homes for homeless pets and rehabilitates animals for future adoption.