MCCONNELL AIR FORCE BASE, Kan.—While Airmen go through basic training at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, little do they know that down the street military working dogs are going through their own 120 day basic training. The dogs are then sent to their first duty station and paired with a handler.
In the case of Staff Sgt. Michael Smith, 22nd Security Forces Squadron MWD trainer, and his side-kick, a nine-year-old German shepherd named Drago, 22nd SFS MWD, being paired together would make them more than just partners.
Smith came from a family of K-9 handlers and knew being a handler was what he wanted to do in the Air Force. He went through a strenuous 81-day training to become a dog handler. After his arrival at McConnell, he was then selected for a special duty by the kennel master to become the dog trainer for the 22nd Air Refueling Wing.
The K-9s and their handlers are responsible for being a psychological deterrent to adversaries but also play an important role in the detection of drugs and explosives and keeping McConnell Airmen safe.
The partnership that is created between the dogs and their handlers goes far beyond the hours of training and patrol they do together. It is created by the intense classified missions they perform and the lives they save as a team.
“You realize how often the dog has saved your life time after time,” said Smith. “So then that bond just never breaks.”
Each day brings uncertainty as a handler. Smith and Drago know that their lives could be on the line in a moment’s notice.
“We will do whatever it takes to protect one another,” said Smith.
Smith said that he and Drago will always have each other’s backs because their feelings for each other dig deeper than just being a job. Their lives depend on each other.
Whether they are on patrol or performing drug and explosive detection, Smith said he is lucky to have Drago by his side.
“We were best friends right off the bat … Drago is always happy to see me,” said Smith. “No matter what kind of day we had before, good or bad, he is eager to work.”
Drago is one of five MWDs stationed at McConnell that is responsible for assisting the 22nd SFS with a range of missions from sniffing out illegal contraband to locating individuals — these dogs are ready to go at all times.
“You never know what the day is going to hold,” said Smith. “That is one of my favorite parts about this job: you’re always experiencing something different.”
Smith said that being a MWD handler and trainer means everything to him, and he is thankful to be paired with such a great dog.
The partnership between a handler and their dog is lifelong, but as their lives depend on one another, their bond becomes eternal.