A Soldier of Another Breed - KALB-TV News Channel 5 & CBS 2

A Soldier of Another Breed

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Photo by Spc. Roy Mercon Photo by Spc. Roy Mercon

FORT POLK, La. (DVIDS) - Man’s best friend. Fido. Spot. Whatever you may call them, having a dog by your side is as American to some as apple pie. And while a rifle may be a Soldier’s best friend in most cases, for Sgt. Alfonzo Sanchez, his best friend is Cuki, a military working dog (MWD).

Cuki and her handler Sanchez are active duty Soldiers sent to Louisiana to assist National Guardsmen participating in a rotation at the Joint Readiness Training Center here at Fort Polk.Led by the 86th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Mountain), this year’s JRTC rotation is one of the biggest in history, including 19 state National Guard units, in what is known as a Decisive Action Training Environment.

An MWD handler is “responsible for the care and training of his or her service dog, which contributes to combat operations abroad and installation security at home by providing target odor detection (explosive/drug),” according to Goarmy.com, a site describing the various jobs a prospective Soldier might take.

Cuki and Sanchez are considered assets during the various scenarios that are slated to take place during the rotation. “We are going to be utilized just as we would be in theater,” said Sanchez. “If the commander requests us, we will be there to help.”Having a canine serve the needs of Soldiers is nothing out of the ordinary. In ancient times, larger breeds would be outfitted with suits of armor containing spiked collars and sent into battle to cause grievous bodily harm to the enemies of their masters.

Once modern weapons rendered this strategy useless, the practice was all but abandoned. Officially coming into U.S. military service during World War I as a way to pull carts carrying guns or wounded, their usefulness has since expanded. Relying on the dog’s enhanced senses to provide support in detecting various substances has become an essential part of today’s military.

Now, a working dog in a military role might include law enforcement, drug and explosives detection, search and rescue, or tracking. Cuki is a German Sheppard trained to patrol and search for explosives. Sanchez and Cuki have been together for three years, deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan, and have had missions protecting the President, Vice President, and the Secretary of Defense.

In
the military, the ones responsible for a working dog are called handlers. “To say I’m the master takes away from the dog’s position on the team,” said Sanchez. “It’s tradition to say that the dog is always one rank above the handler.” This gives a sense of teamwork and mutual respect between the two.“Cuki will listen to no one but me,” said Sanchez. This is key in situations where clear and concise communication is essential.

For example, if Cuki and Sanchez are on patrol with a squad, and Cuki identifies something that could be a potential explosive, Sanchez is confident that she will not hesitate when issued commands to return. This keeps Cuki and the rest of the Soldiers as safe as possible.

In
order to be able to work with a dog like Cuki, rigorous training must first be completed. Job training for Military Working Dog handlers requires 18 weeks of learning how to care for, handle and train a MWD. The first seven-week phase covers on-the-job instruction and teaches police methods and techniques for dog handling.

The second phase of instruction is an 11-week course that provides basic instructions on the application of Military Working Dog utilization and employment capabilities. Phase II teaches basic obedience, controlled aggression, first aid, principles of conditioning, building searches, scouting, detection, and daily care and grooming of assigned MWD, according to Goarmy.com.

Once Cuki reaches the end of her time in service, either though health concerns or age, Sanchez hopes to adopt her.

After being together for three years, two deployments, and countless other missions in the states, separating the two would be a difficult task. “[Cuki] is seven right now, but she’s healthy as a horse,” Said Sanchez. “I’m leaving the army soon, and while I don’t hope for her to become unhealthy and discharged, I still hope to adopt her. If she’s healthy enough, then hey, let her keep working. If not, I’ll take her home, sure.”

(Article courtesy DVIDs. Written by Roy Mercon.)

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