Navy Masters-at-Arms play an important role in maintaining security on board Naval Air Station Oceana. Sailors spend thousands of hours a year training to protect the installation from a variety of potential threats.
Maintaining a secure perimeter, controlling entry points, and patrolling the streets of Naval Air Station Oceana are only a few of the tasks installation security forces perform on a daily basis.
According to Master-at-Arms 1st Class Nicholas Sellers, kennel master at Naval Air Station Oceana, military working dogs (MWD) help make their job safer and easier by acting as a force multiplier and psychological deterrent, ultimately bolstering the installation’s security posture.
“The overall mission of the MWD program is to provide support during our security operations and protect against any persons or items that threaten the safety of personnel or mission-critical facilities,” said Sellers.
MWDs perform some duties that would be much more difficult for a Sailor, such as substance or intruder detection.
Similar to Sailors, MWDs must spend a lot of time training to keep their skills sharp. The handlers at Naval Air Station Oceana spend plenty of time training the dogs in obedience, advanced maneuvering, substance detection, and a variety of other skills.
“If we work an eight hour day, we’re out with the dogs for six of those hours,” said Sellers. “Every day we’re out doing training with these dogs.”
Not only are they training a variety of skills, they’re also training in a variety of environments.
“We’re usually in the nooks and crannies of base, working in open fields and warehouses,” said Sellers.
Master-At-Arms 2nd Class Jacob Parks, MWD handler, said the enjoyment he receives from working with his “four-legged partner,” MWD Meeko, and watching him excel is one of the best parts of his job.
“People might think we train a bunch of mean dogs to do a bunch of crazy stuff,” said Parks. “In reality, most of them are like [MWD Meeko]. They love to work, but they also like getting some love.”
For a military dog handler, an integral part of working with an MWD is building rapport. Sellers said each handler is assigned to a specific MWD to train and work with.
“At one point, I was assigned to a dog for 2 years,” said Sellers. “At another command, I was assigned to a dog for less than a year. It all depends on a command’s needs and a kennel’s needs.”
Sellers said it’s typical for MWDs and handlers to build a bond before they eventually part ways, but leaving friends is a situation that Sailors and MWDs are both familiar with.
“Unfortunately, MWDs learn the game once they get older,” said Sellers, adding that most MWDs retire around 10 years old. “They understand that ‘dad’ might leave soon, and they might get a ‘mom’ or another ‘dad.’ The rapport aspect is huge, and you’ll see that bond solidify after several months, but the dogs understand that everything changes eventually.”
Recently, MWD Bob retired Apr. 24 after finishing his service on board Naval Air Station Oceana and was adopted by Senior Chief Master-at-Arms Mike Hausmann, who himself was a former dog handler.
Though handlers change and MWDs eventually retire, the MWD program at Naval Air Station Oceana continues to help maintain a strong security posture, protecting thousands of individuals every day.