CAMP HANSEN, Okinawa, Japan -- For more than 241 years, Marines have earned fame for fighting alongside their brothers, sisters and allies, but military working dogs are often overlooked. They have also risked their lives, aiding their Marine counterparts in combat since World War II. Today, MWD handlers constantly hone their dogs’ abilities to detect explosive ordnance, perform combat tracking and exercise controlled aggression.
From Jan. 24-26, MWDs with 3rd Law Enforcement Battalion, III Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Groups, III MEF, were evaluated on their ability to detect explosives either on or off leash while combat tracking dog teams practiced tracking single or multiple quarries over varied terrain.
“It is our job as Marines and MWD handlers to progress the dogs and introduce them to different aspects of being a field military working dog,” said Cpl. Christopher G. Castillo, a specialized search dog handler with 3rd LE.
Each week, MWDs and their handlers spend 10-24 hours practicing detection of explosive ordnance.
Dogs have the capability of picking ofsmelling trace odors that indicate hazards, even in stressful, adrenaline-fueled scenarios that would cause most humans to overlook small details, said Castillo, a native of Corcoran, California.
“A dog’s nose is incredible, and their sense of smell will detect an explosive a lot faster than our eyes will,” said Cpl. Andrea M. Mariani, a military working dog handler with 3rd LE and a native of Green Bay, Wisconsin.
The relationship between dog and handler is built inside and outside of the workplace. Handlers constantly feed, groom, exercise and play with their dogs, building mutual trust that extends to the battlefield.
“We have a close relationship with our dogs, but it is a working relationship,” said Hernandez, a native of San Francisco. “Our dogs need to learn to trust us and know that we are there for them, and that we expect the same thing from them.”
“You fall in love with these dogs so easily,” added Castillo. “They have gone through so much stuff, and you train them to do everything, and when they do what you tell them … you feel so proud. You see their love when they don’t want to go up to anyone else, and they just want to go out and do their job with dad.”
Castillo said he finds meaning and purpose in his duties as a MWD handler. While training his canine to keep Marines safe, he’s also building a bond between himself and man’s best friend. After all, when a handler goes on patrol, he’s not only risking his life; he’s risking his dog’s as well.