JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas —
March 13 marks National K9 Veterans Day, a day to honor and commemorate the service and sacrifices of American military and working dogs throughout history.
Military working dogs at Joint Base San Antonio continue to work hard every day to protect and detect. These four-legged warriors will be on duty doing their job on National K9 Veterans Day, but something special will likely be given to them when the day is over.
“Even though the active duty dogs are on a strict diet…it’s not rare for the canine handlers to sneak the dog a steak or piece of chicken or something that they usually can’t have,” said Tech. Sgt. Sharif Malik DeLarge, 802nd Security Forces Squadron kennel master. Special treats are just one way each military working dog handler rewards their canine partner for their service.
DeLarge was assigned to handle his first military working dog, Oolaf, in July 2014. According to DeLarge, most MWD handlers believe being a handler is the best job in the world.
“You get to come to work every day and work with that dog,” said DeLarge. “You spend more time with the dog than you do with your family. [The dogs] become your best friend at the end of the day.”
Oalaf has since retired and splits his time with DeLarge and another handler.
Military working dogs, considered veterans in their own right, are often the first line of defense when it comes to securing areas and sniffing out explosives and narcotics while on duty. Presently, there are three working dog teams from JBSA-Lackland working overseas. Most deployments last about six months.
Staff Sgt. Leytham Cresswell, 802nd SFS military dog trainer, makes sure the deployed teams are ready to serve.
“We try to do something that is downrange, like walking patrols, detection problems on roadways,” said Cresswell.
San Antonio’s heat also helps to get the dogs ready to serve in any climate they are sent to.
“They save lives out there. They can prevent people from losing legs all the way to keeping a vehicle from blowing up,” said Cresswell. “Their detection capabilities are amazing”
The 802nd SFS handlers has a few MWDs that specialize in narcotics, and several more that specialize in explosives. The handlers are constantly going out and setting up training problems to ensure each MWD is capable to do its job, Cresswell noted.
“Without our capabilities, a lot of people would not be able to find the things they need to find,” said Cresswell. “There’s no technology out there that can detect the things these dogs can.”
Staff Sgt. Kathryn Patchoski, also a MWD handler, has been working with her MWD, Miga, for a year. Her Belgian Malinois is the smallest MWD in the kennel, but Patchoski said that doesn’t hold her back when it comes to putting in a demanding work day.
“Every day she has to think she’s saving the world,” said Patchoski.
Patchoski and her canine warrior traveled to West Palm Beach, Florida last year for a security detail at Mara Lago during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit with President Donald Trump.
“We swept the suite that [Xi Jinping] was staying in, the whole complex,” said Patchoski. “There were five dog teams from different bases.”
Patchoski and Miga bonded after spending 24 hours a day together for four days.
“She makes me want to come to work every day,” Patchoski added.
For Miga, National K9 Veterans Day isn’t the only occasion a celebration takes place.
“Even their birthdays, or holidays like Christmas, everyone buys a special doggie toy [for the dogs],” said Patchoski.
An estimated 2,500 military working dogs are on active duty, with around 700 deployed at any given time, according to Military.com.
“They’re our heroes. They make sure we go home every day,” said DeLarge.