Top dogs

Master Sgt. John Lasky, Story and photos
Contributing writer

***image1***Between the hardened aircraft shelters of a bygone era at Ramstein, and amid the hum of the German autobahn, maybe you can catch a glimpse of a Belgian Malinois chasing down a rubber toy and returning it for cheers of, “Good boy” and an affectionate petting. This is what Basco lives for, making his handler happy.

Tech. Sgt. John Vanderdrink, 435th Security Forces Squadron’s military dog handler section, is Basco’s handler and he just rewarded the dog for identifying a training device. In his vest, where other Security Force personnel or “straight legs” might keep a couple M-16 cartridges, Sergeant Vanderdrink keeps a kong, a rubber toy with three spherical shapes melded together for an unpredictable bounce, as Basco’s reward when he correctly identifies dangerous items.

***image2***“It’s given to Basco after he trains or performs well,” Sergeant Vanderdrink said.

After Sergeant Vanderdrink returns the kong to his vest he puts the leash on Basco and they make their way toward the fence. Everyday, and on every shift, different teams randomly patrol the base’s entire perimeter.

“I stop every once in a while to let Basco use his senses to listen and observe,” Sergeant Vanderdrink said.

While working in buildings, planes, trucks or cars supporting Secret Service, Department of Defense, customs or even the German Polizei, their noses are usually being guided by the handlers.

“We do searches prior to all the mass gatherings or big events at the clubs and usually we’re not seen,” said kennel master Master Sgt. Mike Howard. “Last year we completed more than 5,200 hours of search time.” 

Much of the search time isn’t just accomplished in the KMC, he said.
“Frankfurt to France,” said Sergeant Howard, “the dogs here work 1,150-square-miles of territory − just about anywhere there’s any U.S. military.”  

***image3***The dogs and their handlers train at least three times a week with hard training aids, which have an explosive rating of 1.1, and the soft aids, which can be pharmaceuticals.

“Last year we planted over 3,000 training aids,” Sergeant Howard said.
Drug dogs train with the actual narcotics.

“Some people seem to think the dogs are addicted to the drugs, but that’s not so,” Sergeant Howard said.

When there isn’t any tasking for distinguished visitor sweeps or tractor trailer searches, Sergeant Vanderdrink likes to relax with Basco.

“When the job is on the line,” Sergeant Vanderdrink said, “this partner doesn’t wish he was with his family or think about what he’s got planned in his off time.”