Security with Teeth
While Rector puts the size of the squadron at 750, that total is off by 23. That’s the number of military working dogs on base. SFG members both train the dogs and work with them for drugs and explosives detection, executive protection, and general patrol duty.
Detection dogs are used to search aircraft, luggage, and facilities at Andrews and sometimes at other locations worldwide, explains Sgt. Manual Garcia as his team gives us a demonstration of the dogs’ skills through various exercises, including one in which a dog jumps from a patrol car to attack an intruder on command and another where the dog identifies the suspect luggage in a line of bags.
Dogs are trained to identify the scent of both drugs and explosives. When a dog recognizes either odor, it exhibits a passive response, which means the dog sits in front of the object from which the odor is emanating.
Dogs with a strong prey drive, or the instinct to chase and attack prey, are trained for patrol. “In cases where we have an intruder that isn’t following our directions, this is where our patrol dog comes into play,” says Garcia.
Patrol dogs are trained to obey three basic commands. The first command is “bite,” which is given when a dog’s handler releases the dog for attack. A typical military working dog weighs between 60 and 90 pounds, can run at speeds of up to 33 mph, and finishes up its pursuit with a bite that exerts around 400 to 600 pounds of pressure per square inch, according to Garcia. As I witnessed firsthand, a German Shepherd can cover a considerable distance in a few seconds before burying its teeth into its target—in this case, a trainer assistant’s protective sleeve.
But dogs don’t always need to attack. During a pat down, the dog’s handler will search a suspect as the dog watches. If the suspect makes any sudden movements, the dog is trained to attack with or without command.
The third and final command a patrol dog learns is “guard.” On this command, a dog that has chased down a suspect guards him or her until the handler can engage the person. If the individual decides to make any sudden movements, the dog will attack.
The safety of its handler is always the dog’s priority.
Tech Sgt. Larry Logan stands tall in his green flight suit, exuding a confidence that creates a presence that commands respect. He is one of the Phoenix Ravens, an elite team of airmen who perform fly-away security missions to protect aircraft traveling into unsecured, often dangerous locations around the world. “Basically we’re the air marshals of the military,” Logan says.
Though it’s likely you’ve never heard of a Raven, chances are you’ve seen them on the news. “The two military members at the foot of the stairs when presidents get off, those are two security forces Ravens,” says Rector. The most elite members, who are assigned to the Presidential Airlift Group, have the privilege of protecting Air Force One. Rector’s Raven unit protects the Vice President and other federal department heads, like the Secretary of State and the first lady.
The program owes its existence to the U.S. military’s humanitarian bent between the end of the Cold War and the events of September 11, explains Rector. During the mid 1990s, the U.S. Air Force strategic lifters would fly humanitarian missions into unstable locations in Africa and South America. The plane would touch down on unsecured air fields and people would mob it desperate for food and aid. In one instance in Senegal, a plane was damaged. There was clearly a need for security.
Around the same time, according to Logan, an incident occurred where two children climbed into the wheel well of a C141 cargo plane while it was grounded at an unsecured air field in Mongolia. The two young stowaways froze to death during the flight. That further highlighted the need for some type of security contingent to accompany such flights.
To solve the problem, the Phoenix Raven program was created in 1997. Ravens are chosen because of their physical fitness and equanimity. Only 1,900 airmen have made Raven since the program’s inception, states Logan.
Once selected for the Raven program, prospective candidates travel to Fort Dix, New Jersey, for an 18-day specialized training course. There they undergo advanced baton training and learn a style of mixed martial arts known as Krav Maga, developed in Israel and originally used by the Israeli Defense Forces. But the strangest training Ravens receive is a conflict-resolution process known as verbal judo, or unofficially “our Jedi mind trick,” according to Logan. It’s a nonviolent, delicate art of suggestion that Ravens use when confronted with a situation that doesn’t warrant force.
“Say we’re in Africa, and we have a bunch of kids who don’t have food and we have food on the jet,” explains Logan. “You don’t necessary want to give them our resources, so we have to use our verbal judo to try to change their thought processes to not want our food.”
The life of a Raven is rough but rewarding. Most Ravens sign on for a two-year commitment, which results in a dizzying number of trips. Logan says that over a six-month period, he may be home as little as a week and at most, up to four weeks. Sometimes it’s an immediate turnaround. “You go home, grab a bite to eat, and you’re back out the door,” he says. While it’s not ideal for airmen with families, the single Logan loves his job.
“Sometimes it can be very hectic. Sometimes it can be relaxed or even fun,” he says. “We see a lot of the world.”