MARINE CORPS AIR STATION IWAKUNI, Japan --
The old saying a dog is a man’s best friend takes on a different meaning to Marine military working dog handlers than just a four-legged friend to play catch with. These canines and their human partners go through tough training, long deployments and long workdays to keep their bases and stations safe and secure. The Marine dog handlers here are no different.
The handler teams do exercises as often as they can said Pfc. Cody J. Bell, a military working dog handler.
“Whether it be detection training, patrol training or basic obedience, we train to advance ourselves individually and as a team,” Bell said.
Bell has only been on station a short time, and Lance Cpl. Ronny J348 is Bell’s first MWD.
“I have been working with Ronny for about a month now,” Bell said. “At first he wanted to eat me, but he’s a teddy bear with me now. To get to that point, I spent a lot of time with Ronny, training and just hanging around him.”
Over time and during deployments, a handler and his dog grow closer. Deployments affect the dogs too.
“A dog’s behavior may change after a deployment as he will experience most of the stuff that the handler does,” said Cpl. Jonathon M. Skordos, the PMO MWD chief trainer.
The dogs can become scared of loud noises, closed spaces, or they may not like people dressed a certain way.
"A dog can suffer post-traumatic stress disorder just as a human can,” said Cpl. Shaun M. Sands, a military working dog handler. “If a dog had a bad experience with an explosion or gun fire, it can have such a negative affect that any time that dog hears a loud noise he can shut down because he remembers it from the past.”
Even though dogs can suffer from the same effects after deployments, the dogs can also display the same heroism.
Lance Cpl. Jeffrey S. Canary, a military working dog handler started with a new dog when he first got here. Now he is the partner of the most senior and decorated dog in the kennel, Staff Sgt. Youry E235.
“Youry has earned more medals and ribbons than many Marines do in their career,” Canary said.
Youry has the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, Combat Action Ribbon, Navy Unit Commendation Medal, Iraqi Campaign Medal with two bronze stars.
The journey from a new handler to being a part of an experienced team is a long road for the PMO military working dog handlers. The relationships that grow between the handler and the dog need to be closer than the tightest squad going out into a war zone and as loving as any person is of their fourlegged best friend.
“As an MWD team, the handler and the dog build a close relationship, both personally and professionally,” said Bell. “We need to be efficient and get the job done, so it is important that you trust your MWD and your MWD trusts you.”
At the end of the day, the handlers know that their dogs will have their back anytime.