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 MWD 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/.

Don’t Make Me Come and Make You Stop!

SAN DIEGO (Jan. 10, 2013) A military working dog (MWD) assigned to Commander, Navy Region Southwest San Diego MWD Kennel participates in a controlled aggression patrol exercise on Naval Air Station North Island. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Kenan O’Connor/Released)

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SAN DIEGO (Jan. 10, 2013) Master-at-Arms Seaman Apprentice Randy Tallman, assigned to Commander, Navy Region Southwest, acts as a military working dog moving target during a controlled aggression exercise. The exercises are conducted to train the dogs in subduing non-compliant suspects. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Mark El-Rayes/Released) ( Love the length on this jump – is that body open or what!)

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SAN DIEGO (Jan. 10, 2013) Shawn Carter, right, a Police Canine Handler assigned to Commander, Navy Region Southwest, gives a military working dog (MWD) the command to halt during a controlled aggression patrol exercise against Master-at-Arms Seaman Apprentice Randy Tallman. The exercises are conducted to train MWDs in subduing non-compliant suspects. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Mark El-Rayes/Released)

Go NAVY!

Master-at-Arms 2nd Class Jeremy Aldrich, attached to Naval Security Force, K-9 Unit, and his military working dog Tyson.

Master-at-Arms 2nd Class Jeremy Aldrich, attached to Naval Security Force, K-9 Unit, and his military working dog Tyson a four-year-old Blue Belgium Malanois, take a little break for some fun at the obstacle course on base. Aldrich has worked with Tyson for 18 months in support the base mission in providing security to the base and the Mina Salman pier.  (This is an older photo, but wanted to share because I like it so much and wanted to shout out to the handler!)

U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jennifer A. Villalovos

Marine and Navy Handlers

Sebastian's+dog+cropped+compressedEnjoy a few photos sent by Marine and Navy handlers deployed in Iraq: photos of mission ready dog and handler, training and just chillin’.

I was reminded recently that your family is limited and you get what you get. You pick one spouse. But your friends can be as infinite and diverse as you choose. Best friend, new friend, old friend, trusted friend, true blue friend. There are not enough special words to adequately describe friendship, especially friends as special as these young military men and women. They are a pretty unique and amazing group. Sebastian, we send our prayers that you, your buddies and your dogs –stay stafe. Semper fi.

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Night Shift

With my new job, hours are taking me later into the evening, which is a totally new experience for me. I’m not fond of the hours, but you do what you’ve got to do. Without getting too sappy or dramatic, I do think about our deployed dog handlers, as well as all of the other men and women working in harm’s way many times throughout the day. When I saw these photos of the handlers working at all hours of day and night, and knowing how exhausted I am from just a little tweak in my schedule, it makes me respect what they do even more.

Here are a couple of photos of Marine buddy Chris and his MWD Lucca working in Al Qadasiyah and Diwaniyah, Iraq (both photos taken by Sr.A Eric Harris).

U.S. Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Chris Willingham, attached to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Special Troops Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, directs his dog Lucca, a military working dog, to search a car parked near an Iraqi election site for explosives in Diwaniyah, Iraq, Jan. 30, 2009. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Eric Harris/Released)
U.S. Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Chris Willingham, attached to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Special Troops Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, directs his dog Lucca, a military working dog, to search a car parked near an Iraqi election site for explosives in Diwaniyah, Iraq, Jan. 30, 2009. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Eric Harris/Released)
U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Francis from Offutt Air Force Base, Neb., and his military working dog, Z, search abandoned lots in Bacharia, Iraq, Dec. 17, 2008, as part of a joint search of the community conducted by 4th Squadron, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Daniel Owen/Released)
U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Francis from Offutt Air Force Base, Neb., and his military working dog, Z, search abandoned lots in Bacharia, Iraq, Dec. 17, 2008, as part of a joint search of the community conducted by 4th Squadron, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Daniel Owen/Released)
U.S. Soldiers and a military working dog provide command control during a security halt while conducting operations in the Multi-National Division (South-East) area of responsibility in Basra, Iraq, July 31, 2008. DoD photo by Pfc. Rhonda Roth-Cameron, U.S. Army. (Released)
U.S. Soldiers and a military working dog provide command control during a security halt while conducting operations in the Multi-National Division (South-East) area of responsibility in Basra, Iraq, July 31, 2008. DoD photo by Pfc. Rhonda Roth-Cameron, U.S. Army. (Released)
Timmy and Chay, military working dogs, strike as a team to take down U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Sergio Sandoval, during nighttime double dog aggression training June 18, 2008, Joint Base Balad, Iraq. Sandoval is assigned as a dog handler to the 332nd Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron, Detachment 1. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Julianne Showalter/Released)
Timmy and Chay, military working dogs, strike as a team to take down U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Sergio Sandoval, during nighttime double dog aggression training June 18, 2008, Joint Base Balad, Iraq. Sandoval is assigned as a dog handler to the 332nd Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron, Detachment 1. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Julianne Showalter/Released)

Checking empty lots in Iraq are USAF handler SSgt. Francies from Offett AFB with a photo taken by SrA Daniel Owen.

Also, working late are dog teams photographed by Pfc. Rhona Roth-Cameron in Basra. (No name was included for the dog or handler.)

In the last photo MWDs Timmy and Chay take a bite out of Navy handler, USNavy Petty Officer 1st Class Sergio Sandoval in a training exercise.(Photo by Sr.A Julianne Showalter.)

Our thoughts and prayers go out to these handlers and their dogs as they face down the demons of the night for all of us.