News: Military working dog helps protect service members
Story by Sgt. Antony Lee
KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan – After Tali, a military working dog, cleared a room at the Joint Regional Afghan National Police Center ahead of a meeting, he waited in the hallway with his handler, Air Force Staff Sgt. Kellie Peterson.
Naturally, soldiers in the area were drawn to Tali. Some briefly petted him while others asked Peterson about him. One Afghan National Army soldier took a photo of him with his phone.
Tali, a 4-year-old German shepherd, is a patrol and explosives military working dog. His job is to clear routes, compounds, rooms and open areas by sniffing for and detecting the presence of explosive odors.
Peterson, who is with the 466th Air Expeditionary Group, has been Tali’s handler since February 2013. She deployed to Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, with Tali in July from Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D.
“They try to keep dog and handler together as long as they can because it builds rapport,” Peterson said, adding that she is Tali’s second handler. “Knowing how the dogs work, how they change behavior during detection – that all comes over time.”
Peterson and Tali are both currently attached to Headquarters, Regional Command (South). They usually work with infantry platoons and Office of Special Investigations service members.
Recently, however, the personal security officers of International Security Assistance Force leaders have requested military working dogs for their missions.
“When you’re a dog handler, you’re attached to anybody and everybody,” Peterson said.
On Tuesday, Oct. 1, Tali’s job was to clear a room at the JRAC in Kandahar province before the start of a partnership meeting that Maj. Gen. Paul J. LaCamera, 4th Infantry Division and RC(S) commanding general, and Afghan National Security Force leaders attended.
“The dog’s primary purpose was explosives detection,” said Sgt. 1st Class Josh Conley, a personal security officer for RC(S). “That’s what the dog was trained to do.”
Conley added that military working dogs help prevent Green-on-Blue incidents.
“The dog is not used to intimidate, but rather to deter,” he said.
Peterson’s first mission with Tali in Afghanistan was with an infantry platoon, when they helped clear multiple abandoned compounds.
“We get attached to platoons and we ride out to wherever their objectives are,” she said. “We try to find the safest routes. We’re clearing the roadways so everyone behind us stays safe.”
When a military working dog detects the odor of an explosive, it changes behavior, alerting the handler that a threat is close.
“They’re not trained to look for the actual IEDs (improved explosive devices) , they’re trained to sniff for explosive odors,” she said. “They’re trained to go to the highest concentration of odor.”
On days that Peterson and Tali are not out on missions, they conduct training exercises. The training includes a kennel master planting an odor outside somewhere so Tali can detect it and alert Peterson, just as he would on a mission.
When there is a mission, Peterson is ready to go outside the wire with Tali to help protect service members from explosive devices.
“There have been no finds this year surrounding KAF,” she said, adding that it is a good thing because that means “everybody is safe.”
Tali is often popular with service members at KAF, many of whom have dogs of their own back home.
“It’s a big morale builder for people missing their dogs back home,” said Peterson, who also has a dog of her own. “You miss your dog but Tali is my work dog so I love him too. He keeps me safe.”