DYESS AIR FORCE BASE, Texas --
The handler passes through the gate he once guarded and heads for the armory. After he arms up with an M-9 pistol, he places it in his leg holster and drives to the military working dogs location and approaches the kennels. He walks with a smile to Rexi, military working dog, and gets greeted with dog saliva to the face.
This is how Senior Airman Joshua Santos described a typical morning as a military working dog handler.
Santos, 7th Security Forces Squadron MWDH, has a mission critical bond with his dog, Rexi, which strengthens everyday they defend together.
“It’s a bond you can’t get with a dog that just sits at your house,” said Santos, “And it has to be. The rapport we build together is critical to me being a good handler. The only way I can describe the feeling of when I open up his kennel in the morning is pure happiness.”
Santos has been a MWDH here for 4 months and has developed a bond with Rexi quickly.
“I think for Santos being new to the job and coming in here, he hit the ground running,” said Tech. Sgt. Andre Hernandez, 7th SFS MWD kennel master. “He came in ready to train. What made him different is he was constantly asking questions, and was continuously trying to grow.”
Rexi is a 6-year-old Belgian malinois and was formerly Hernandez’s MWD prior to his days as kennel master.
“Rexi is a good dog,” said Hernandez. “One of the hardest things as a kennel master is getting new handlers up to the speed of experienced dogs. I saw early how much passion Santos had as he built a bond with a dog that I used to work with. That really showed me his character.”
MWD can struggle when transitioning to a new handler due to the fact that they only work with one handler till either that person leaves or the dog is retired. Hernandez said that this wasn’t an issue with Santos and Rexi.
“Rexi has been doing this job for 5 years which is longer than I’ve been in the Air Force,” said Santos. “In a way he was teaching me when I got here because he’s been here so long. He knew what he was doing and I learned that quickly.”
Santos said that Rexi lives for one thing, and that’s playing. He said that the everyday job is all fun and play for his dog. Whether they are playing fetch or out searching vehicles, Rexi is always excited to get moving.
“What I love the most about Rexi is his willingness to work,” said Santos. “He motivates me because I know that when I open his kennel first thing in the morning, that’s the best part of his day. That’s when he knows it’s time to play.”
A typical day for a MWDH includes: arming up, getting with their K-9, patrolling certain locations and buildings, responding for vehicle inspections and most of all just staying alert and aware at all times. A handler is also responsible to feed their dog and take them to the vet when necessary.
“It’s a team effort,” said Santos. “I can’t do my job without Rexi. He and I not only help keep Dyess safe, but the responding communities as well. Dyess handlers respond to help out police departments around West Texas when we are called upon.”
Santos has high hopes for the remainder of his time at Dyess.
“I look forward to the overall progression of myself as a handler,” said Santos. “I know with Rexi by my side that I’ll always have the motivation to grow because he’s too good of a dog for me not to.”
The handlers here are a tight-knit unit. The nine handlers here have over 50 years of experience combined.
“The different handlers and trainers here are great at teaching me different ways to accomplish tasks and everyone works together well,” said Santos. “They shape everything together that will make me a better handler.”
Dyess has plenty of motivated Airmen and they all have one thing in common. Like Santos, they have love and a passion for their job. These qualities are critical for growth as an Airman. For Santos, the future is bright and will be packed with bite.