K-9 without a canine

  • Published
  • By SSgt Carolyn Viss
  • 376th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
TRANSIT CENTER AT MANAS, Kyrgyzstan -- He eats, he sleeps, he plays, and sometimes he works, but it's not really work. It's a dog's life.

Arek is a military working dog who's seen it all and still lives to tear apart squeaky toys. And just like some military service members, one of the only things he's really scared of is ... mice.

"He doesn't really like gunshots or explosions either," admitted his handler, Staff Sgt. Patrick Lau, who's deployed with Arek from Hill Air Force Base. But he pushes through and doesn't show many of the typical Post Traumatic Stress Disorder symptoms military working dogs can exhibit, according to Joe Villalobos, an Air Force Reserve staff sergeant who is permanently contracted to work as the Transit Center at Manas MWD trainer.

This 85-pound German shepherd has been in two explosions while on patrol in Iraq. When an improvised explosive device hit a convoy that Arek and his then-handler were in, Arek clenched his jaw in fear so hard that he shattered four teeth, three of which were reconstructed. The fourth is gone.

Another time, the Army squad Arek was helping protect had to stop their convoy and do an IED sweep. With his keen canine sense of smell, Arek detected an explosive constructed out of C4, bolts and screws. His detection saved 27 Soldiers from suffering injuries or fatalities. For this, he was awarded the Army Order of the Spur.

The Order of the Spur is an Army cavalry tradition. Soldiers serving with cavalry units are inducted into the Order of the Spur after successfully completing a "Spur Ride" or for having served during combat as a member of a cavalry unit according to a military report.

"He's so easy to work with," said Lau, who is on his third deployment now, his second with Arek. They've been together for a year and a half of Lau's two years as a dog handler. "It's easy to trust him because he's had so many finds. I will never second guess him."

The almost 7-year-old military working dog specializes in guard, standoff, and detection of illegal or contraband, Lau said. Despite his oral trauma, he's also still certified to bite and hold. On a daily basis, he trains -- which for him is play -- and does common foot patrols with security forces here. Searching aircraft, luggage, incoming vehicles, and performing random antiterrorism measures are all standard for the dog.

"K-9s are such a huge force multiplier," Villalobos said. "One dog can do the work of 10 security forces members. And when it comes to clearing a field or building, nobody else can do the explosives detection."

Here, the dogs are treated like valued service members. There's a full-time veterinarian on staff, and the animals' diets and weights are closely monitored. Their kennels are well sanitized, and they get lots of love from their handlers.

"I love working with K-9s," Lau said. "It's just like having a pet."

Arek doesn't know he's a war hero; he's just doing his job. He's saved lives, been wounded, and is always ready for the next bite!