GREAT FALLS — The 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom Air Force Base isn’t known for its work with dogs, but a kennel of eight military working dogs run frequent deployments around fence lines, entrances, and in the community.
“The motto (is) working dogs are a force multiplier, and they assist with the delay, to detect and defeat enemy forces,” said Technical Sergeant Robert Coughlin, the working dog kennel master.
Coughlin oversees a kennel of patrol and detector dogs with a range of breeds from the German Shepherd and Belgian Malinois.
Staff Sergeant Alexandra Campanaro is a handler of a 6-year-old German Shepherd named Paul.
“He's super energetic, so energetic. He loves to have fun and play around. But when it's time for business and time to work, he kicks it off right away,” said Campanaro.
That’s the case for all the dogs in the Malmstrom kennel. Playtime looks a little different - they aren’t deprived, but actually regulated to know that they have a specific duty.
“They rotate shifts, and they have an assigned handler," Coughlin said. "They first must go through rapport training when they're assigned a handler. Then we do 90 days of training. At the end of the 90 days of training, they are validated to work, and they are put on the road for various patrol tasks.”
“He's just like every other dog to me, except he has a purpose. It's not just he's going home to play on the couch,” said Campanaro.
That rapport goes miles when the safety of Malmstrom Air Force Base is in their paws.
“I would never just go up to my dog and kind of roughhouse him, he might think I'm trying to attack him. He might take it as a negative. These dogs have a switch, so you just have to be careful what you do and how you do it.”
Their handlers are the only ones able to work with their respective dog. They are the only ones who know if the dog's demeanor changes, and who the dog listens to, creating a unique bond between the dog and the handler.
Campanaro and Paul have only been working together for six months, and the two are still working on their relationship.
“It gives me a sense of purpose," Campanaro said. "We're here for a reason and doing our job every day, seeing our progression coming from something super small and our issues that we had when I originally picked them up to now. You just see all the progression that you make.”
The Malmstrom Kennel receives all dogs from specific military working dog breeders in Texas. These specific bloodlines have never lived the life of a house pet as they are strictly business.