Getting Personal: Military keeps this Mildenhall airman working like a dog
Five-year-old Desant’s hometown is unknown. But to be fair, he is a German shepherd.
Desant is a military working dog at RAF Mildenhall and has been assigned to the base for the past year. He spoke to Stars and Stripes through his handler, Staff Sgt. Christopher Cook, 29, of Oak Harbor, Wash.
What’s it like being a military working dog?
I’d say it’s fun. Very demanding and challenging, but very rewarding as well. It’s a job, but it’s also his life.
Is there an average day for a military working dog or are they unique?
There’s a lot of average days. On an average day, he wakes up for breakfast, gets ready for work and then gets going. Then we usually go to the armory to get my duty weapon and then go to guard mount (morning formation). Then we do a doggie “MoT” (British vehicle checkup), a several-point inspection. We check for abnormalities, mouth, teeth, eyes, ears and mouth. Basically, everything gets checked and he’s groomed as well at that. From there, if his friends are working, we'll go to the search barn for a while … or head straight out and search buildings on base. An average day is between six and … 14 hours.
It this an enjoyable job?
With it, it’s play for him. It’s a job he gets to play at. Everything he does is a game for him. When he gets to bite someone, that’s his reward. If he finds an illegal substance, he gets his toy and love from his handler.
He is a very picky eater. He doesn’t like his food as much as he likes the sandwiches from the contractors at the search barn. He kind of leans towards a vegetarian diet sometimes, as he’ll go for their salads, too. He really likes ham.
With such a picky diet, is it hard to keep in shape?
He tries to watch his figure and keep in shape. He likes to go to the gym, but they don’t let him in, most of the time. Something about black shoes on the basketball courts.
What’s the coolest job he’s done?
He’s had the experience of being on [first lady] Mrs. [Laura] Bush’s security team when she was here as well as that of former President Clinton’s security team. They kind of dropped in here over a four-day period.
What’s the best part about being a military working dog?
I think the best part of being a military working dog is the bond that’s created between a dog and its handler. The love of his handler, that’s what the dog loves most.
What’s the worst thing?
All the veterinary inspections. Especially with my dog. My dog doesn’t like his feet touched. We have to take two handlers to hold the dog down. But, they get better care than many of the troops.
Does he bask in the glory of being a military working dog?
He does have a secret love for being in front of the camera. There’s a lot of community involvement. Actually, he’s very good with it. To him, whether we’re doing a demonstration or a training problem, it’s the same for him. He doesn’t put on a show for them, even though it is a show. He does like going out and having his picture taken.
In less than a year, Cook will be transferring. Desant, however, will remain at Mildenhall for the remainder of his career. Do the dogs have a hard time giving up their handlers?
He’s concerned. He’s losing his handler and getting a brand-new person, then rebuilding that trust. It’s like when you get a new boss. You’re trying to do things the way you’ve been doing it and now he says you’ve got to do it this way now.
How long does a military working dog serve before he retires?
Ten to 13 years. It depends a lot on his health and temperament. If his health deteriorates, he may not be able to retire fully or complete his service commitment. He is looking forward to retirement, but just not keen on the benefits package.