Navy canines help keep base safe
July 3, 2008 · Updated 1:38 PM
"A year ago it looked like his career was over before it ever had the chance to begin. He was deemed untrainable, which was noted in his military service record. Then Barry was transferred to the Whidbey Island Naval Air Station police department and turned his life around. Barry is not a sailor or police officer, really. Well, not of the two-legged variety. He's a 7-year-old Belgian Malinois, a star among military working dogs. He is hard-working and reliable, trained in patrol and detection. No one can say exactly what Barry is trained to detect. That is confidential. But the handlers who work with him said Barry does it well. Military working dogs stationed at the naval air station are generally trained to patrol and detect drugs, explosives and ammunition.Barry is the best dog, said Senior Chief Dave Thomason, the naval air station's chief of police. That is much more than anyone expected. When the canine handler team needed another dog last year, it was either accept Barry as a transfer from another base or not get an additional dog at all, said Earl Sincere, master at arms 1st class. Sincere, the kennel master and base dog handlers' supervisor, went to get Barry from the other base. His service record said he was untrainable, Sincere said. But, he took Barry anyway. Within weeks, using positive reinforcement training techniques, Barry became supercop, the handlers said. Positive reinforcement, that is a reward for doing what he is taught to do, was the key to unlocking Barry's ability. His reward for hard work - his beloved red ball. Barry's handler is Master at Arms 1st Class Jason Lofton. In the past year the human and canine duo has had some impressive accomplishments. Barry's record indicates that he has helped military and local civilian law enforcement agencies in contraband searches with positive results, which means he finds what he is trained to find. Additionally, Barry and Lofton took part in the Navy Region Northwest Military Working Dog Trials in 2000, where they took first place in both detection and obedience. This week Barry and Lofton will be participating in Lackland Air Force Base Department of Defense Worldwide Invitational Canine Trials. The operative word there is invitational. The team had to be invited, based on job performance. The Navy has 150-plus dogs. Petty Officer Lofton and his dog will be one of only seven Navy dogs at the competition, said Chief Warrant Officer Ronald L. Bouldin, the naval air station's security director, a position comparable to a civilian police commissioner. To top it all off, Barry is a nice dog, too. He is a good public-relations dog, greeting people in a friendly manner and allows people to pet him, said Sincere. He is even known to lick a few faces. The dogs and their police-officer handlers share 12-hour days together and that gives them time to really bond. We become a family, Sincere said. When asked if he is protective of Barry, Lofton replied, Very. Lofton, who is due to transfer to a new duty station in about six months will need to leave Barry behind, for his replacement to partner with. I'm really going to miss him, Lofton said. Barry looks to Lofton with loving, adoring, big, brown canine eyes. Not only have the two built a relationship, but also Barry knows that Lofton has his red ball. The dog will do whatever Lofton asks. In a demonstration at the naval air station's military working dog training facility and kennel, Barry performed flawlessly, demonstrating how he assists and protects his human partner. Thomason gets down on his knees and Lofton tells Barry to be friends. The dog spends a few minutes snuggling up to Thomason, wagging his tail and gladly accepting the pats and pets. Two minutes later, Thomason dons a protective sleeve and Lofton issues a command to his dog. Barry goes after Thomason with ferociousness, latching onto his protected arm and not letting go until Lofton says it's OK. Barry then detains and escorts his mock suspect for Lofton, so Lofton would be able to direct his attention to other suspects at the pretend scene. When the exercise is completed, Thomason removes the protective sleeve to reveal that while he was guarded against puncture wounds, his forearm is a bright red, indicating the tremendous amount of pressure supplied by the dog's jaws. He has quite a grip. Part of a team The naval air station's military working dog department has four dogs and five handlers, including Sincere in his supervisory capacity. Aside from Barry, there are three German shepherds. The dogs range in age from 4 to 9. The oldest dog is Dak. Dak's assistance was recently provided to the Oak Harbor Police Department, part of an agreement between the civilian community and the Navy. Upon request, the base commanding officer can approve the dogs' assistance to civilian entities. The dogs are always handled by their Navy partners. Dak is the oldest dog, but he looks like the youngest, Sincere said. Sincere entered the kennel and came back out with Dak on a leash. The German shepherd's coat glistened in the sunshine and seemed to simply invite one to run their fingers through it. But that is impossible. Dak has issues, Sincere said with a chuckle. Civilians aren't allowed to touch Dak. In a brief demonstration, the large dog leapt from ground-level to the top of a 5-foot retaining wall with catlike elegance, showing his maneuverability in search situations. The remainder of the time he sat at Sincere's left, just waiting for a work command. Dak loves to work, Sincere said, and he knows he is on duty when he is put into a patrol car. He barks the whole time he is in the car, Sincere said, because he is eager to get busy. Sometimes that makes for a long shift. Dak is normally partnered with Master at Arms 2nd Class Forrest Kemp. However, Sincere is familiar with all the dogs. Black is the youngest of the dogs. When asked if he could bring Black out on a leash, Sincere said that was impossible. It seems the person who could best handle Black is his handler, Master at Arms 2nd Class Brian Waters, and he was not present. It was clear, however, that Black dislikes cameras. As the camera shutter sounded outside the kennel, capturing photos of Dak, Black was heard reacting, barking in his kennel up the hill, 50 feet away. Ar is the third German shepherd, and he has a distinguished record. Ar has participated in several competitions, and has served the military, the government and the civilian community. Ar is handled by the naval air station's only female canine cop right now, Niccole Rumans, master at arms 2nd class. Rumans, recently walking with her pet dog on a Penn Cove beach, found a pipe bomb. Thomason said he was glad Rumans was able to provide a service to the community even in her off-duty hours. A dog's life Military working dogs for all branches of service are secured through the Air Force. Procurement personnel locate and purchase suitable dogs. The dogs need to be trainable, sociable with people, not gun shy, and they need to have good hips, Sincere said. The dogs start their training at no earlier than 12 months old and no later than 36 months. All military working dogs are trained at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas. The dogs are trained in drug or explosive detection, patrol, patrol and drug detection or patrol and explosives detection. After successful training, they are shipped where needed to U.S. military installations throughout the world.Patrol training differs from sentry training. According to the Lackland Training Center fact sheet on military working dogs, in 1969 the Air Force adopted the patrol dog as the standard military working dog, as sentry dogs had a down side. Sentry dogs were taught to mistrust everyone except their handler, making them uncooperative if it were necessary to change handlers. Also, sentry dogs would not break off an attack, whereas patrol dogs will attack and detain until their handler instructs them to stand down. Often if a sentry dog's handler was injured, the dog would not allow anyone close enough to the handler to help. The four dogs at the naval air station are able to adjust to a new handler within a matter of days, Thomason said. The dogs are given superior medical attention by the base veterinarian, said Sincere. They even have their teeth cleaned twice yearly. They eat dog food of the kind and amount prescribed by the veterinarian. The handlers give them baths and regular grooming. The length of a military working dog's career depends on the health of the dog, said Sincere. Often a dog works into the teens, in people years. We have a really young kennel. Other kennels have dogs with double-digit ages, Bouldin said. When a dog needs to retire it can go back to the training school at Lackland Air Force Base. There the experienced, retired dogs are used to train new human handlers. Complete retirement could mean being adopted into a home, but because of the training these dogs have, only trained military handlers are allowed to adopt the dogs. Success stories A routine day consists of activities as ordered by the base commanding officer on a monthly basis. The dogs pull guard gate duty, randomly inspecting incoming vehicles, as well as barracks searches. In short, they support all areas of the base, Sincere said. The dogs stationed at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station, along with their handlers, have an impressive resume. The canine is a tool, a living tool, said Bouldin. The key to effective use of this tool is finding each individual dog's niche, he said. You find their weaknesses and build on their strengths, said Bouldin. This method is successfully demonstrated in how Barry excelled after coming to Whidbey Island. Every kennel I've always been at has taken a dog out of necessity, Bouldin said, referring untrainable dogs. Every time they have taken (such) a dog on board (they've) turned him into a superstar. "