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Fourth graders go behind the 'virtual' scenes at K-9 training

By Rachel Kersey | 37th Training Wing Public Affairs | May 21, 2020

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas —

The 341st Training Squadron conducts all military working dog initial training as well as all MWD handlers courses for the Department of Defense at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland. This elite team was able to share what they do with a class of fourth-grade students from Buda Elementary School during a virtual canine demonstration May 18. 

“I knew this group of fourth-graders would love this topic, and they did,” said Dr. Cynthia Farest, the students' teacher. “I wanted them to have a special memory of fourth grade, and I thought a visit with the group that trains the dogs would be just the ticket. I think it is very important that kids make real connections to their learning, and I believe this experience will do that.”

The students, their teacher, and their instructional coach tuned in at 10 a.m. to learn more about the work MWDs do for their detection and patrol missions during their study of animal soldiers and heroes, past and present. 

Air Force Staff Sgt. Edward Fortuna Clase and Army Sgt. Milo Bunts led the demonstration and gave students information about the training these dogs go through to become an MWD and the capabilities they bring to the operational force.

“Our dogs have capabilities to save a lot of lives,” Bunts said. “They find bad things that people aren’t supposed to have, and they also find bad people. They’re the best dogs in the world, and I love them. I love my job.” 

Bunts and Fortuna Clase shared their journeys of how they became dog handlers before beginning the demonstrations. Though they are from different military branches, both men’s jobs are under the umbrella of military police, known as Security Forces in the Air Force.

As an Army Soldier, Bunts trained to be a police officer and a canine handler at the same time, whereas Fortuna Clase first became a Security Forces Defender, performing those duties for a few years before applying to be a canine handler. When selected, he attended the handler's course as a student at the 341st Training Squadron.

The two also shared details with the students about the journey the dogs go through in order to become a qualified MWD. The most common dog breeds to be trained as MWDs are German Shepherds, Dutch Shepherds, and Belgian Malinois, who all spend 65 days in detection training and 55 days in patrol training, for a total of 120 training days. 

The 37th Training Wing is not only the Gateway to the Air Force, as the location of Air Force Basic Military Training, but it is the Gateway to K-9 for the DOD,” said Maj. Tate Grogan, 341st TRS director of operations. “The military's four-legged teammates started out right here at the 341st TRS.” 

The first demonstration for the fourth graders was a detection demonstration, followed by patrol and obedience training and a display of bite capabilities, all of which ready the dogs for their duties as service members for the country. 

“We need dogs to be confident whenever they are in the field,” Fortuna Clase said. “We don’t want a dog that is afraid of heights or loud noises. These dogs are highly trained and there is no better teammate than them to have your back.”

The kids asked questions about how the dogs differentiated between scents, if the dogs get treats on the battlefield, whether or not the dogs have ever gone after the wrong person and many other things they were curious about. Fortuna Clase and Bunts answered every question and helped the kids to understand the big picture of what life is like for an MWD and an MWD handler.

“That was the BEST [virtual] class meeting ever! I know these kids will be talking about this morning for years to come,” said Melissa English, virtual class teacher. “A million thanks. It was a perfect morning of learning.”

Learn more about the Gateway to K-9 training and breeding program at www.37trw.af.mil/Units/37th-Training-Group/341st-Training-Squadron/