Air Force bases are home to some of the most advanced military equipment and machinery in Israel. Combat jets, airborne ammunition and cutting-edge radar systems make these bases a strategic target for anyone trying to attack Israel. Protecting these bases is a top priority, and surprisingly on the forefront of this crucial task are four-legged beings.
Dogs play an important role in guarding Air Force bases around the country. Their abilities help track down, locate and target infiltrators. “There have been many operational incidents on base,” explained Staff Sgt. Aviv Swisa, a dog handler at an IAF base in southern Israel. “There’s never a dull moment. The base has an indicative fence, so when the fence is touched it alerts a team that arrives at that spot. We arrive with our dog, scan the area and figure out if there are infiltrators in the base. If there are, we track them down and stop them.”
Thwarting an infiltration depends on the dog’s tracking skills, therefore on many occasions the dog is actually the leader of the team. This demands an equally skilled dog handler that can understand the dog’s intentions. “I have to know even the smallest details about the dog’s behavior and what they mean,” said Corporal May Kolker, a dog handler. “I am familiar with different head movements, behavioral shifts and what it means when his ears are pushed back. I need to notice if the dog loses track of a scent as quickly as possible, and I have to react immediately.”
Building a relationship and understanding between the handler and the dog demands an intense five-month training course. Soldiers and dogs are matched according to personality. From the moment they are matched, the soldier and the dog spend their entire service side-by-side; they train together, work together and are even discharged together. “It’s kind of like raising a child,” Staff Sgt. Aviv said about his dog. “You have to feed it, train it and take care of it.”
A strong relationship between the dog and its handler is the key to their success. “It was Passover break and I had the week off from the army to spend time with my family,” said Corp. May. “During the holiday, I received a phone call from the handler on duty who told me that my dog had been bit in the face. When I heard about the incident I immediately packed my things and went back to the base so I could be with him for his treatment. I didn’t think twice, it was the obvious thing to do.”
Despite the fact that the dogs are used for operational purposes, it is hard not to be moved by the special relationships that form between the soldiers and the dogs they work with, redefining the phrase, “A man’s best friend.”