News: Battle buddy of a different kind
Story by Sgt. Jarred Woods
BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan – Few bonds are stronger than that of trust. When trust is built upon equal amounts of time and dedication, that relationship is made even more unbreakable, dependable and able to endure when tested.
The relationship between tactical explosive detection dogs and their handlers have just such a bond. These brave and dedicated service members rely on one another each and every day to protect against unseen dangers outside the wire.
“With the trust we’ve built, we’ve really become quite a strong team,” said Sgt. Kyle Ham, a TEDD handler with A Company, 15th Brigade Support Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, part of 1st Theater Sustainment Command (Theater). “Once you build that relationship, it never stops growing; it continually gets better and better.”
Ham, also a Rushville, Ind., native, and his loyal companion Frodo, a TEDD, spend nearly every waking moment together here at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan.
“My dog almost never leaves my side,” said Ham. “Frodo might only spend a few hours in the kennels until I go and check on him.”
It is very important that the each dog is paired with the proper handler.
“The relationship between the dog and the handler is very important,” said San Diego native Sgt. Nina Atrerohandy, a patrol explosives detector dog handler with the 10th Mountain Division, 1st TSC. “We try to match the dog’s personality with the handler’s personality. It’s just like any member of a team; you want to be able to rely on each other.”
It all begins when the handlers meet their dogs for the first time.
“In the beginning, we just hang out with our dog to know each other,” added Atrerohandy. “I would go into the kennel with my dog Rex for a few hours at a time. I would just brush or bath him so he could get use to me. At first our personalities were kind of opposite, but now I love him to death.”
Yet, the bond between dog and handler isn’t just forged by spending time together. Strict discipline and hours of training must be endured to ensure dependability on the battlefield.
“We use dual commands; a hand command paired with a voice command,” said Ham. “This gets the dog recognizing both commands, so at any time we can use either one. If I’m on a mission and I need to be quiet, I can just use hand commands. The constant training helps them know we’re in command and also builds rapport.”
When it truly counts, the confidence the dog places in the handler can be seen.
“When we’re out there on mission searching for improvised explosive devices, Frodo is continually looking over his shoulder at me for guidance,” added Ham. “The trust between me and him is just unimaginable.”
Spending just about every moment with someone over the course of a deployment is sure to create strong bonds.
“Frodo and I are very close,” added Ham. “We’ve built a very good friendship over this past year. He’s become very dependent on me.”
Yet, as with most good things, the relationship between dog and handler must come to an end.
“I don’t like to think about it, it’s going to be pretty tough,” said Ham. “It’s kind of backwards, but the worst part about this deployment is going home, because I have to give Frodo up. Yet, it’s worth it to know that he’s going to be out there on the battlefield as an asset for someone else saving lives.”