OKINAWA, JAPAN --
To enlist in the U.S. Marines, requirements such as being at least 17 years-old and having two legs must be met. For some four-legged Marines, their training begins shortly after birth, and they must perfect their craft for two years before they are assigned to their handler on a military installation.
Cpl. Ivan Perez, a military working dog handler, and Jack, a military working dog, with Provost Marshal's Office, Marine Corps Base Camp Smedley D. Butler, are one of the duos on Okinawa that work to keep Marine Corps Installations Pacific safe. PMO K-9 teams are on continuous shifts on all bases in Okinawa, trained and prepared for emergencies such as suspect apprehension, pursuit attacks, building searches, field scouting, drug and explosives detection.
Together, Perez and Jack, a 6-year-old, 80-pound German Shepherd, specializing in explosives detection, have trained together for nearly a year. Jack has had two other handlers before Perez and has been deployed with two Marine Expeditionary Units to provide explosive detection security.
“Trust and rapport are the most important part of this relationship,” said Perez. “My life is in Jack’s hand, and his life is in mine. Since Jack had other handlers, it took a few months for us to build complete rapport with each other. He was stubborn in the beginning, but I took the challenge. Our relationship keeps growing stronger every day.”
All MWDs across the U.S. military are trained to pursuit attacks, suspect apprehension, and building searches. The dogs are separated into two categories; specializing in explosive detection or drug detection.
“One of the things that a team like Cpl. Perez and Jack are entrusted to do is build a straight and safe pathway to explosives for responding units.” Staff Sgt. Eduardo Bonilla, kennel master with PMO
“Once that explosive is located by the team, responding units like explosive ordnance disposal will come in and handle the rest of the job, but it is critical that the K-9 unit locates that explosive first,” said Staff Sgt. Eduardo Bonilla, the kennel master with PMO.
Bonilla explained that 17 Marines and 16 dogs make up the K-9 unit, one of the largest in the Marine Corps. He said that it’s not only important that the dogs are trained, but the handlers are also highly trained in everything they may come across in training scenarios or emergencies.
“In emergency situations, Jack is not only a physical deterrent, but a psychological deterrent as well,” said Perez. “A situation is far less likely to escalate when K-9s are present due to the intimidation factors they bring to the scenario.”
Perez explained that each day, the pair conduct different types of bite and odor detection training, either independently or with other MWDs and handlers in the unit. In addition to this training, including weekends, Perez said that he ensures that Jack is fed, clean, stretched, well-groomed, and exceeds physical fitness standards.
Typically, MWDs can serve for up to 10 years, based on their breed, bone, and joint health. After their retirement, the dogs are commonly adopted by one of their handlers.
“We have roughly 160 MWD handlers in the Marine Corps, which means I’m extremely lucky to be in this community,” said Perez. “Every MWD handler has a passion for what they do every day. Being able to build my relationship with Jack and help keep MCIPAC safe is where my passion lies.”