JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas —
The sun is coming up at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, and cars are lined up at military checkpoints waiting to get on the installation. While access cards are flashed, drivers see Staff Sgt. Kathryn Patchoski and her Belgian Malinois dog, Mia, standing guard during the busy process. Mia is one of many four-legged canine working dogs around the world tasked with protecting and deflecting any threats which could come up.
About 10 percent of military working dogs for the Department of Defense are bred in San Antonio, however, the rest are purchased from nearly 30 vendors stateside and overseas.
The majority of the dogs bought for the Department of Defense are German Shepherds or Belgian Malinois and range from one to three years old.
“When it comes to MWDs, we do all of the purchasing, training and shipping of MWDs to field units all over the world,” said Maj. Matthew Kowalski, 341st Training Squadron commander.
To make these purchases, a team travels abroad approximately four times a year to inspect potential dogs. The teams are composed of Transportation Safety Administration representatives, logistics personnel, 341st TRS canine handlers, veterinarians, as well as an agent from the contracting squadron.
“This last trip we looked at more than 300 dogs and brought about 130 back,” Kowalski added.
The price, which includes shipping costs, ranges from $5,500 to $6,500 dollars per canine, said Jack Caniglia, 502d Contracting Squadron contracting specialist.
“The market is very competitive right now abroad and stateside,” said Joseph A. Preusser, 502d CONS services infrastructure acquisitions flight chief. “We’re not just competing against other government agencies, we’re competing against other country governments.”
One reason MWDs are so valued is because their sense of smell is five to 10 times stronger than a human’s, giving them the ability to identify various substances like improvised explosive devices and different kinds of drugs.
The dogs that are selected show potential for military and police work. Once fully trained, they will be used for protection, patrol work, subduing suspects and either narcotics or explosive detection.
“There is a need for the dogs,” Caniglia said. “What they do in the grand scheme of things overseas and in Afghanistan, Iraq and even on base locally is pretty neat.”
Before they are mission-ready and sent to their assignments, the 341st TRS first provides all DOD dogs their initial training.
The training depends on what each dog will be doing and can upwards to 18 months depending on where the dog is procured. Typically, training time is 120 training days or about six months before a MWD is ready to go to the field.
During that process, it’s all hands on deck.
“I run the largest kennel in the Department of Defense,” Kowalski said. “We have almost 1,164 kennels.”
“We’re doing kenneling, healthcare, feeding, bathing, washing, training; everything that goes into making that dog happens here at the schoolhouse, so it’s a pretty awesome thing to see,” Kowalski said.
Once the canine completes their initial training, they are then assigned to a unit and shipped to their new base where they will receive additional training.