Across the Department of Defense, military working dogs serve many purposes. K-9’s are utilized to subdue suspects, find specific items, and people. Most are only capable of one or two of these functions; Diego and Yenkie, residents of the Marine Corps Base Hawaii Provost Marshal’s Office kennels, are a bit different.
Typically, military working dogs are dual purpose; Diego and Yenkie, however, are the first K-9’s in DoD law enforcement to fulfill all three of these functions.
“With these two military working dogs, we have added the combat tracking asset in the Provost Marshal area of operations,” said U.S. Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Matthew Settle, kennel master, PMO, MCBH. “I picked the dogs that had the characteristics of good tracking dogs and that had that extra drive, subsequently, I would train the handlers.” he said.
Working with K-9’s comes with its own set of challenges, Settle said.
“It’s probably the hardest specialty that we have in the military working dog program because it’s you against them,” Settle explained. “Because of that, I need somebody that can think on their feet while they’re moving forward. I look for those types of attributes, the resiliency, trainability, and critical thinking.”
These attributes are evident in Yenkie and Diego’s handlers, Settle said.
“I’m honored to do this. It’s not every day that you start something that can change the rest of the DoD law enforcement and how they train future handlers and dogs. It’s kind of a blessing for me to work with Yenkie and the rest of the dog handlers, to be able to utilize the skillset I was taught from a field unit and use it in garrison to make a difference.” Sgt. Brandon Sperlazza, military working dog handler
“Prior to this base I was stationed at Camp Pendleton, I was a K-9 handler for two years, and Staff Sgt. Settle was my training instructor,” said Sgt. Brandon Sperlazza, military working dog handler, PMO, MCBH. “When he moved to Hawaii and became a kennel master he pulled me over to help with training the dogs, considering I also had tracking experience.”
Recently, the handlers and their dogs put their tracking capability to use.
“We had an instance recently where a parent called 9-1-1 and said their child just ran away,” Sperlazza said. “We were able to arrive on scene, get an article of clothing that the child had worn, and track that child pretty much footprint to footprint.”
Sperlazza emphasized the importance of teamwork when it comes to training the dogs. Each K-9 has their own particular strengths that complement each other.
“Before Staff Sgt. Settle began the combat tracking dog course, Diego and I were already working together as a team,” explained Danny Narvaza, military police officer, PMO, MCBH. “We’ve been teamed up for about a year already.”
Diego employs a different approach to his work than Yenkie, Narvaza said.
“Instead of just using his eyes, Diego used his nose a lot more,” Narvaza said, “Tracking dogs specifically have to have more value and determination displayed in their search for things rather than just looking with their eyes.”
Aside from their professional lives, the handlers have a unique personal relationship with their dogs, Narvaza said.
“Diego is goofy but he is one of the most high maintenance dogs- he is allergic to everything,” Narvaza said with a laugh. “I have to clean his ears every other day, give him a bath with special soap, and he has a special diet.”
Despite the significant time investments, working with the K-9’s is extremely rewarding, Sperlazza said.