Fort Huachuca: kennel visit recap

This photo shows a Fort Huachuca kennel sign that lists military working dogs who have crossed the rainbow bridge.
With this prominent sign, Fort Huachuca honors military working dogs that have crossed the rainbow bridge. (Photos by Linda Costa-Bryan)

Don’t mess with a military working dog. A rabid raccoon learned this the hard way when it ventured into a kennel at Fort Huachuca. The dog quickly dispatched the invader and thankfully did not contract rabies. The incursion, however, led to the installation of sturdy red iron gates to deter wild critters from entering.

MWDTSA heard this and other stories during a recent visit to Fort Huachuca. Our nonprofit travels to stateside kennels to provide moral support and say thanks to military working dog teams. These handlers and dogs work tirelessly in a variety of roles, including explosives detection, drug detection, and patrol. They face challenges ranging from extreme weather to snakes (including one killed in the area that morning).

This photo shows the Fort Huachuca handlers and MWDTSA volunteer Linda Costa-Bryan standing behind a picnic table loaded with MWDTSA gifts, including backpacks, FIFTY/FIFTY bottles, t-shirts, and more.
Fort Huachuca handlers and MWDTSA volunteer Linda Costa-Bryan stand with MWDTSA kennel gifts. Pictured left to right (back row): SSG Razo, SSG Andrews, SPC Fletcher, and PFC Jackson. Front row: SPC Harmon, SFC Peppersack, and Costa-Bryan.

MWDTSA volunteers Linda Costa-Bryan, Scott Bryan and Bill Cummings arrived at the base with breakfast and gifts. Donors’ generous financial contributions made all of this possible. Handlers enjoyed coffee, juice, fruit, assorted pasties, and donuts. Volunteers presented a new coffee maker and bags of Dunkin Donuts coffee. Handlers received MWDTSA t-shirts, blender bottles for protein drinks, MWDTSA patches, and Fifty/Fifty bottles.

For the dogs, MWDTSA delivered KONG Classics, KONG Squeezz sticks, dog bandanas, collapsible dog bowls, and Planet Dog Orbee footballs. Thanks to the steadfast support of Planet Dog, each MWD also received a Planet Dog Orbee baseball. These toys are perennial favorites among MWDs! KennelSol graciously provided a bottle of kennel disinfectant for this visit.

Part of Arizona history

While MWDTSA’s main goal is celebrating the handlers and their four-legged comrades, our volunteers also learn a great deal about training, local challenges, deployments, and military history. A kennel visit typically includes skill demonstrations and a facilities tour, along with a chance for Q&A.

Our volunteers learned the Army originally established Camp Huachuca in 1877 to “offer protection to settlers and travel routes in southeastern Arizona.”1 It was re-designated as a fort in 1882.

Swapping stories

MWDTSA volunteer Cummings of Marana, Arizona served as a USAF Vietnam-era Sentry Dog Handler. He and the Fort Huachuca handlers discussed how dogs’ roles in the military have shifted over time as missions have changed. “Today’s dogs do so much more,” he noted.

This photo shows MWD Roxie, mid-jump, jaw clamped on the arm of PFC Jackson's bite suit.
PFC Jackson and MWD Roxie perform a training demonstration for MWDTSA volunteers.

Linda Costa-Bryan remarked that she had never seen artificial turf in a kennel training yard. This led to a discussion of the hot climate. Fort Huachuca handlers work with their dogs early in the morning, because the sunbaked terrain can scorch a dog’s paws in the afternoon heat.

Anyone who has visited a military kennel can attest to the wisdom of ear protection. When visitors enter, the whole kennel often erupts in a cacophony of ferocious barking. Cinderblock walls and cement floors amplify the volume. So, MWDTSA volunteers were surprised at the (relative) quiet of Fort Huachuca’s kennel. “That’s because we just fed the dogs,” explained SFC Mathew Peppersack.

During the visit, two handlers mentioned they had received MWDTSA care packages during previous deployments. Both had been surprised to get boxes and said it felt nice to be remembered while in a combat zone, away from their friends and family.

MWDTSA thanks you, our generous donors, for making these care packages and stateside kennel visits possible. We are grateful for your support!

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It takes a village to fill our quarterly care packages and fund our stateside kennel visits. To learn how you can help, visit https://mwdtsa.org/donate/. Thank you!

1. http://huachuca-www.army.mil/pages/history.html

Fort Campbell and friends: kennel visit recap

This photo shows a young Fort Campbell dog handler with his dog on leash.
During a recent MWDTSA visit to Fort Campbell, this young team provided a great demo on the obstacle course.

Story and photos by Dixie Whitman

Three cars, arriving separately, ferreted out the correct Fort Campbell gate. This was no small feat, given the base spans over 100,000 acres, straddling the Tennessee/Kentucky border. This expansive base has a big mission: “Fort Campbell sets the standard for integrating and delivering installation services and base support to ensure readiness, empower resiliency, and enable our soldiers, families, civilians, retirees, and community partners to remain…..unmatched!”

Old friends in new places

We coordinated the event with the Kennel Master (KM), a friend whom MWDTSA supported on his last deployment to Afghanistan as a dog handler. He no longer holds the end of a leash but, in his role of Kennel Master, embraced plans for our first Fort Campbell visit. The Army, however, stirred the pot and just days before our arrival, promoted him to a new assignment and installed a new KM, SSG IaFelice. Fortunately, SSG IaFelice hit the ground running and our plans never wavered. It was especially reassuring to know that two other aces-in-the-hole, SSG Vaughan, a wonderful friend from a previous base visit to Fort Jackson and SSG Espinosa, a previous Fort Benning handler, hustled behind the scenes to ready the kennels for our visit.

The Fort Campbell bench is deep

MWDTSA volunteer Jerry Whitman stands with some of the Fort Campbell dog handlers.

Fort Campbell has a large kennel. In sports terminology, the bench is deep. After introductions, SSG IaFelice invited us to walk through the facility. Handlers stood beside their dogs’ enclosure doors. Our volunteers and guests were able to interact individually with each team. This allowed people to have more detailed and focused conversations while asking in-depth questions. These meet-and-greets allowed the handlers a moment to brag about their dogs.

This photo shows a Fort Campbell handler in a bite suit with a dog clamped on to his sleeve. A young female trainee observes.
Seasoned veteran SSG Vaughn, in his role as a trainer, catches a young dog. Sharing his expert feedback will help the new handler determine how to adjust her training to ensure that she and her dog will become an excellent team.

The levels of experience in this kennel guarantee that newer handlers and dogs have dedicated K9 professionals to lead, teach, and mold their younger comrades into polished, certified teams. Some of them recently graduated from dog school, which means that MWDTSA guests witnessed a variety of skill levels both in handlers and in their dogs. It was inspirational to see the transfer of experience and knowledge during the demonstration exercises.

Pizza and presentations

Four MWDTSA volunteers attended, along with some additional guests, including Ruth and Robert Conroy of the Betsy Ross Foundation. This foundation sends substantial support to our dog teams via MWDTSA. In their honor, we gifted the kennel at Fort Campbell with a small office Keurig machine. In a breathtaking coincidence, the flag flown on MWDTSA’s behalf as a thank you gift and presented to the Betsy Ross Foundation several years ago was originally flown for us by SSG Espinosa. A joyful smile spread across Ruth’s face when she met him.

This photo shows Ruth and Robert Conroy from the Betsy Ross Foundation, with Jay Espinosa standing in the center.
Ruth and Robert Conroy from the Betsy Ross Foundation flank their dogman, Jay Espinosa.

MWDTSA never attends a base visit empty-handed. We brought KONGs and Chuck-It Balls for the dogs. For the handlers, we provided T-shirts, water bottles, and a gigantic decorated tub filled to the brim with tasty treats. The wonderful folks from the Betsy Ross Foundation also gifted a bottle of savory Allegro Marinade to all attendees. (Shout out to Allegro: We have switched marinade allegiance. Best. Marinade. Ever.) Additionally, MWDTSA provided a lunch of salad, Luigi’s pizza, drinks, and one of our guests brought a beautifully decorated MWDTSA cake.

This photo shows the sheet cake that MWDTSA provided as a dessert to Fort Campbell handlers.
A great MWDTSA cake followed the pizza luncheon as a sweet surprise.

A memorable base visit for so many reasons

As MWDTSA volunteers, we spend much of our time working independently from our homes scattered across the country. While that gives us a wide swath of reach, it also means our volunteers often work diligently with people they’ve never personally met. It was my absolute honor to meet volunteers Shelli and Randel from Nevada for the first time. They embody dedication, capability, and honor. I also treasure the personal introduction to Ruth and Robert, the fine folks behind the Betsy Ross Foundation. And, as always, the young men and women who work with our amazing military working dogs remain focused and fabulous.

What a phenomenal experience for us all, thanks to the military working dog teams at Fort Campbell!

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MWDTSA thanks its generous donors for making stateside kennel visits possible. To learn more about how you can support our nation’s military working dog teams, visit https://mwdtsa.org/donate/.

Mayport Moments

This photo shows Retired Chief Petty Officer Millie Canipe with MWD Rex.
Above: Officer Millie Canipe poses with her long-time partner Rex at Naval Station Mayport. Anyone can be cool, but awesome takes work. These two are awesome.

Story and photos by Dixie Whitman

Base pass in hand, security waved us through the Visitor’s Gate and aboard Naval Station Mayport. Large boxes and bags neatly stacked behind the driver’s seat busted at the seams with goodies for the military working dog teams at Mayport kennels. Naval Station Mayport is one of three major Navy installations in the greater Jacksonville, Florida area. It’s home to the 4th Fleet, helicopter training squadrons, and some of the most polished military working dogs in the Navy’s command.

In addition to the warm greeting from Kennel Master MA1 Roberto Aguilar, the Atlantic Ocean breeze welcomed us as we drove onto the base. It was just after 9:00 AM, and the temperature was rising nicely under a clear, sunny sky in north Florida. We were headed for a Navy kennel visit. Could this day really get much better?

Surprise, surprise!!

Photo shows fence separating Naval Base Mayport waterfront from civilian beach.
The beach here is wide and lovely. The fence line separates the base beach from the public beach. Northern Florida has some wonderful waterfront and parks to explore. Mayport is a stunning base, and we were delighted to share a few hours with the great teams here.

As we rounded the corner into a base housing neighborhood, we followed the Kennel Master’s truck. It turned into a stubby driveway in front of a low-slung pastel Florida house. We exited the van, confused about whose house we were visiting.

Simultaneously, handlers poured out to greet us. Our first surprise? The yellow house with the screened-in porch and breezy carport was actually the kennel office. Equally mind-boggling, the actual dog kennels also blended into the neighborhood, occupying a similar home in the same cul-de-sac. At most bases, a large kennel yard sits next to the kennel. Not here. At Mayport, handlers take their partners to various base parks where they train.

To my absolute delight, I found a second big surprise. The “civilian contract handler” included in my planning numbers was, in fact, retired Chief Petty Officer Millie Canipe. Millie and I first met at a huge Fort Benning Vietnam Dog Handler event that I coordinated back in the spring of 2004. In 2005, even before MWDTSA became a thought, four friends and I visited the spotless kennels at Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base near St. Mary’s, Georgia, where Millie served as Kennel Master.

Reflecting on Kings Bay

That Kings Bay kennel visit was one of my favorite days ever, tucked into a special spot in my heart. Her kennel was filled with gorgeous and very social German shepherd dogs who excelled in their work. In fact, MWDTSA’s first ever hero dog, Rex D012, hailed from the Kings Bay kennel. Millie’s enthusiasm and wonderful handlers impacted MWDTSA and my life immensely. How many people can say they’ve been on a nuclear submarine, successfully negotiated a Navy shooting simulator, and had an opportunity to meet the Commanding Officer in charge of the East Coast’s nuclear fleet?

In addition to Millie, there were three other teams available at Mayport that day with dogs trained in explosives, patrol, and narcotics. Millie dashed off to get her partner, another dog named Rex, who at 11 was the oldest dog in the kennel. Rex and Millie have been together since 2010. That length of partnership is unusual for active duty personnel as they change locations more frequently, but their civilian counterparts can add stability with a more permanent placement.

Presents for all

Three handlers show off their new San Francisco Bay Gourmet Coffee. Left to right: MASN Noonan, MA2 Stanley, and MA1 Aguilar.

After Rex arrived, we began opening up the goodies that MWDTSA had brought to share with him. Rex enthusiastically grabbed his KONG toy to chase and chew, but showed little interest in the dog thermometer. It monitors his core body temperature to help keep him safe while working in the heat of the Florida sun, but much less fun on his end.

MWDTSA also presented T-shirts, patches, and coffee mugs to the handlers. The San Francisco Bay Gourmet Coffee was immediately pressed into use in the kennel’s well-worn coffee maker. Soon, scrumptious coffee smells wafted throughout the small kitchen area. It’s always good to keep our protectors caffeinated, and San Francisco Bay Gourmet Coffee has proven to be a steadfast partner.

Meeting the Mayport teams

Photo shows MASN Noonan and his handsome partner, MWD Mirko.
MASN Noonan kneels with MWD Mirko.
Photo shows MA2 Stanley and MWD Mio.
MA2 Stanley with MWD Mio.

Next in for a meet and greet, uber-handsome MWD Mirko and his partner, MASN Patrick Noonan, visited and posed for some splendid photos. Mirko, an 8-year-old rich dark German shepherd dog, has a confident smile and stunning face. A dual-purpose dog, he spends part of his days patrolling from the back of a squad car and the other part using his nose to find bad things.

Also dual-trained, our next visitor Mio is strong and agile. Five-and-a-half-year-old Mio, a deep black and red German shepherd, exudes a serious demeanor. He and his partner, MA2 Jacob Stanley, posed for our camera. Instead of strutting his stuff, Mio hinted he had little time for nonsense and wanted to get back to work. He let his guard down long enough to smile for the camera, but he returned to full focus moments later.

“Painting” and wordplay

Photo shows MWDTSA volunteer Jerry Whitman receiving love from MWD Sindy.
Sindy with MWDTSA volunteer Jerry Whitman.
This photo shows Kennel Master MA1 Aguilar with MWD Sindy.
Kennel Master MA1 Aguilar serves as Sindy’s handler.

Sindy, the youngster of the crowd at 3.5 years of age, has a wonky ear and loves to find explosives. She buried her face into my husband’s stomach, enjoying some extra scratches and loving. We joked about taking her home with us. They teased in return about letting us! Apparently this dark German shepherd beauty is a “painter,” which means that she’s adept at slinging poo artfully around the kennel walls.

One of the handlers unavailable that day was MA2 Cameron Ruff. We wondered if his last name helped his cause when he asked to become a dog handler or if it made it “ruff-er.” His comrades shared some good-natured banter about his incredibly à propos moniker.

We also enjoyed reconnecting with Divisional Officer Stull, who had been a handler at Kings Bay the last two times we met and was instrumental in setting up this base visit.

The Tour-de-Mayport

Mayport has immediate access to deep water and is home to the 4th fleet. The first stop on the tour was the pristine sandy beach that is available to personnel based at Mayport. Because it was early in the day and during work hours, only a few folks were out walking the beach. Driving on to the shipyards gave us ample opportunity to see a variety of ships in port, including our first littoral combat ships, which were developed for combat in shallower waters closer to the coast.

Photo shows helicopter training in the clear blue skies above Naval Station Mayport.
Helicopter takeoffs and landings are common sights near Mayport, as the base hosts several helicopter training squadrons.

Helicopter training squadrons bunk here, as well, allowing young Navy pilots an opportunity to learn the skills to meet Naval Station Mayport’s mission of sustaining and enhancing war-fighter readiness.

As we looked out through the majestic oaks standing sentinel over the adjacent golf course, we ended our day with delicious burgers from Bogey’s restaurant. We enjoyed our last moments over the lunch table with the great teams from Mayport. We appreciate their generous hospitality, unending smiles, and partnerships with some of America’s greatest military working dogs.

Many thanks to the MWDTSA donors who made this base visit possible. To learn how you can support our nation’s military working dog teams, visit https://mwdtsa.org/.