SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, Germany --
Once a month, military working dogs at Spangdahlem Air Base are thoroughly checked by the base veterinarian in what is called a “spot” checkup, which ensures the dogs are healthy and can perform to the best of their abilities.
On March 5, 2020, the MWD’s of Spangdahlem AB received their monthly checkups to ensure the dogs were capable of completing their mission here: be ready to deploy, defend the base, and provide deterrence against threats.
Since the appointments occur so frequently, the dogs are used to the check-ups and happily follow their handler's instructions to step onto the scale and patiently wait for their monthly heartworm medication disguised as a treat.
“It's called ‘spot day’ and we are just taking their weight and making sure they look good and healthy and don’t have any minor concerns,” said U.S. Army Maj. Monika Jones, 52nd Medical Group veterinarian. “If there are major concerns, the handlers let us know as soon as they come up. We are on call for them 24/7.”
Jones provides a second set of eyes for the health and wellbeing of the dogs, as well as her medical and veterinary knowledge.
“Sometimes the handlers might not notice, so we like to look at them every month,” said Jones. “But we also like to look at them twice a year for their semiannual exams, and that’s way more comprehensive.”
The comprehensive exams occur less often than the monthly exams, and are more in-depth to catch any possible issues that may have been overlooked on spot day.
“We call them ‘red’ or ‘yellow’ semiannual exams.” said Jones. “For red, we do vaccines and blood work and an EKG, or electrocardiogram, to capture all of their body systems.”
Peak fitness is important for an MWD, as their job heavily depends on their ability to chase, tackle and bite perpetrators and potential threats. For U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Jordan Leiter, 52nd Fighter Wing Security Forces Squadron military working dog handler, one of the most important jobs the dogs perform are their search missions.
“One of the main objectives here is when vehicles come through to the search pit like the semitrailer or construction vehicles, they would search all these trucks to make sure nothing gets on base that isn't supposed to,” said Leiter. “They also work as a deterrent, so they will sit at the front gate.”
Deterrence is one of the main goals of the 52nd FW, and the dogs play an important role in that mission.
“Dogs cause a lot of psychological deterrence, so the adversaries see them there and want to turn around at the gate,” said Leiter. “However, the main mission the dogs have here is deploying, training to deploy and finding explosives.”
Despite ongoing concerns with the spread of COVID-19, the dogs will continue to receive their spot checkups.
“We still have to make sure they are healthy,” said Leiter. “Handlers will take extra precautions and continue personal hygiene practices to ensure the dogs will be able to perform their mission.”
To be able to best perform the base’s mission, the care of MWD’s is essential to mission success and completion. For Jones, the task of handling the health of Spangdahlem’s MWDs is one that carries great reward.
“I love it, I think it's one of the greatest privileges I've ever had as a vet,” said Jones. “They are pretty special with the training that comes with their job and the bond they have with their handlers.”
Much like becoming an MWD handler, being a vet who takes care of MWDs is a special privilege and one that most vets may not get to experience. The pride in caring for the MWDs goes hand in hand with service to one's country.
“I feel pretty fortunate to be able to take care of them,” said Jones.