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Military Working Dogs Play a Vital Role at Naval Air Station Sigonella

Navy NewsStand

Story Number: NNS090203-14
Release Date: 2/3/2009 5:14:00 PM

By Mass Communication Special 2nd Class Jason T. Poplin, Naval Air Station Sigonella Public Affairs

SIGONELLA, Sicily (NNS) -- Military Working Dogs (MWD) have a longstanding history of military service. Since their inception into U.S. military in support of operations, MWDs have performed a variety of functions in every major U.S. conflict.

MWDs have especially played a crucial role in the protection of military bases, assets, and personnel during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. They are utilized in the detection of weapons, explosives and narcotics before they inflict harm.

The dogs receive initial training at Lackland Air Force Base and are then sent to the kennels of every branch of service where their training is maintained. These kennels, such as those located at Naval Air Station (NAS) Sigonella, assign "handlers," or military members trained specifically to work with the animals, who maintain their training and take care of them. As the role of the military has evolved to meet the demanding requirements of Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom, even small assets such as the kennels of NAS Sigonella have followed suit.

"The canine program has changed drastically," said Chief Master at Arms, Gary Groesbeck, kennel lead chief petty officer.

"Eight years ago when I was a handler, our primary focus was force protection of the base. And what that means, is standing at the front gates doing random vehicle checks, foot patrols around the base doing building sweeps, and searching mail. Fast-forward to what we're doing now with the war on terrorism. I currently have three handlers that are deployed for nine months each."

One of those who has answered the demands of those deployments is Master at Arms 2nd Class David Gutierrez. Deployed to Al Anbar province, Iraq, Gutierrez worked closely with the Marine Corps in the location of improvised explosive devices (IEDs), their manufacturers, weapons and money caches. Gutierrez described his deployment to the Marines as being a floating asset.

"I belonged to a rifle battalion in the Marine infantry, but occasionally Army special operations guys would come by and ask if they could borrow a handler and I would disappear for days. Same thing with some of the SEAL teams, who had their own dog teams, but sometimes they would come and pick one of us up. You're just going everywhere."

Gutierrez said that the services he performed while assigned to the Marines were varied. He said that he conducted a lot of foot patrols and routinely stood a quick reaction force watch. Some of his accomplishments during his deployment include the detection of two weapons and money caches in addition to several IEDs.

Gutierrez returned from his deployment, but mentioned that the dog he was assigned to is back in the country at the moment, where he's continuing to succeed at his job; he found a rocket propelled grenade last month.
Groesbeck said that the MWD unit is a very important part of the military and especially Sigonella.

"The biggest thing that I'd like to remind the Sigonella community is that we are actively involved in the day to day operations in Afghanistan and Iraq," he said. "Because of the role that we do play, which is protecting countless lives and millions of dollars worth of military equipment, we all can hold our heads up as a community."

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