Hill military working dogs

Members of the Utah Transit Authority and Transportation Security Administration explosive detection dog teams conduct a joint training exercise inside a warehouse at Hill Air Force Base on Jan. 12, 2021.

HILL AIR FORCE BASE — A group of four-legged lifesavers from the military and local law enforcement agencies are working together to keep the Northern Utah community safe.

In a news release, Hill Air Force Base spokesman Donovan Potter said handlers and military working dogs from the base’s 75th Security Forces Squadron have recently teamed with local and regional agencies for joint training sessions on base, where teams are working to perfect their ability to detect homemade and military-grade explosives.

The group, which Potter said includes explosive detection dogs and handlers from the Utah Transit Authority, Utah Highway Patrol, Transportation Security Administration and Department of Homeland Security, as well as special agent bomb technicians from the FBI, conducts the training in a Defense Logistics Agency warehouse on base.

At Hill, the DLA performs distribution operations that include receiving, storage, packing, shipping and disposal of military weapon system spare parts. The outfit has a large distribution center on-base.

Tech. Sgt. Alexis Romero, the 75th SFS’s kennel master, said the trainings are aimed at running the broad range of threats working dog teams could face when performing their jobs.

Romero said each of the different agencies have unique “real-world experiences” with their working dogs and the training gives each outfit an opportunity to learn new techniques that ultimately make for a “better product for hostile environments.”

Potter said detection training with military dogs is complex and noted that many elements influence how dogs discern certain problematic odors. Potter said air movement, weight and location of the explosive and many other external factors come into play.

The Hill dog team tries to do as many joint training session as they can, Romero says, because it not only ushers in new knowledge and experience, but it also motivates the dogs by providing a change of scenery.

“Like people, dogs can also get complacent and pick on similarities around them,” Romero said in the release. “It’s vital that we change up our tactics with a wide array of factors that will allow them to problem solve and most importantly enjoy their time working.”

The Air Force’s military working dogs are bred and trained at the 341st Training Squadron, which is located at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio. According to the squadron’s website, MWDs can detect trace amounts of almost any substance, which makes them invaluable during combat missions where bombs are expected.

The dogs at Hill are trained to deploy and work in combat scenarios, but they also perform a variety of tasks on base — from responding to police calls and building alarms, to conducting random searches at base security gates, parking lots and dormitories.

The most common breed for MWDs are the German shepherd and the Belgian Malinois. Dogs that operate in military and security roles, whether it’s in the Army, Navy, Air Force or Marines, are either “single-purposed,” which means they’re trained only in detection, or “dual-purpose,” trained to both detect and bite. Normally at about 2 years old, the dogs are paired with a single individual, called the dog’s handler, following their training.

“Their job is to find possible explosives and, when called, protect our government officials,” Romero said. “Our dogs also deploy downrange to protect our brothers and sisters who are fighting the war against terrorism. If they can find an explosive device before it goes off, it’s a win for the Air Force.”

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