SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. – As the sun rises over Scott Air Force Base, Illinois the morning silence is interrupted by the blast of a police cruiser’s siren. Something has tripped an alarm at the commissary, and 375th Security Forces Squadron working dog handler Staff Sgt. Christopher O’Brien and his working dog, Irk, are the closest unit. Acknowledging the call, the security forces defender and his canine sidekick prepare to face an unknown threat.
For them, it’s just another day in a job where keeping the base, and themselves, safe means relying one another. But a bond like that doesn’t spring up overnight.
The 375th Security Forces Squadron enlists the help of military working dogs to keep the base safe. These four-legged guardians search for bombs, drugs and ride along in patrol cars with their handlers. These dogs belong to the Department of Defense and serve in the Marines, Army and Air Force.
There is a lot of work that goes into training these four-legged wingmen, a significant portion of which goes into establishing bond between K-9 and handler.
“People, a lot of times, they just see the dog,” said O’Brien. “They don’t see all the time and dedication that goes into it. My eight-and-a-half hour shifts are actually nine to 10 hours, coming in on off-days to visit your dog.”
Before moving to Scott AFB, O’Brien was stationed at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, home of the Security Forces technical school and where all Air Force K-9s are bred and trained. He was able to see the K-9s and handlers train together. After helping out the handlers stationed with him, his interest grew, and he decided to cross-train into K-9 handling.
“Since I was stationed there, I saw firsthand all the students being there and I just wanted to be K-9 so badly once I started seeing it and helping out with other handlers,” said O’Brien.
That was how O’Brien met his new partner, Irk. Irk is a five-year-old German Shepherd drug detector dog with an electric attitude. With a morning personality, he’s always ready to go first thing in the morning when his handler is still getting ready for the day.
Before the new team could suit up and hit the road, they spent two-weeks of rapport time together, learning about one another.
“With our rapport time, I literally just hung out in his kennel all day because you’re not allowed to do anything else except just show that dog that you are with him,” said the Missouri native.
Once O’Brien puts on Irk’s vest, collar and choke, they are ready for a day of patrolling the base.
“When we’re on shift, we can be doing anything from responding to alarm activations or just doing multiple building walk-throughs,” said O’Brien. “Just making sure everything is secure.”
O’Brien has been teamed up with Irk for a year-and-a-half, and their time is coming to an end. Since he has trained with a narcotics drug dog, he can now move up to being an explosive dog handler.
“Irk is a unique character, I’m very fortunate to have been paired up with him,” said O’Brien. “Our bond is just insane; I don’t even know how to explain it.”
Fortunately, the commissary alert was a false alarm and the two are able to head back out on the road. For the moment, the two are still an inseparable team, each of them having the other’s back. The bond that makes them so strong as a team is what will make their separation so difficult. But while this was one of their last calls together as a team, both know that bond will last a lifetime.