MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. --
Marine Corps K9s are born and trained at Lackland Air Force base in Bexar, Texas. When the dogs are between the ages of 12 to 36 months, they begin training to do one of three specialties: specialized search dogs, patrol explosive dogs, or patrol drug dogs. The Marine Corps K-9 program employs Labrador retrievers, which are specialized off-leash search dogs and trained to locate explosives however, they are not trained as bite and attack dogs. German Shepherds are employed as patrol explosive and drug dogs. These German Shepherds are also trained to bite and attack in addition to locating explosive material or drugs. Upon completion of their training, the dogs are assigned to their new units where they will remain for the majority of their service.
Once a K9 is placed with a dog handler, they spend the first month bonding. “This sets the tone for how their relationship will be.” said Sgt. Braxton Rico, military dog handler, 1st Law Enforcement Bn., IMEF.
Slowly the pair will build a trust in one another. Handler and K9 will need to know each other almost as well as they know themselves. For six months, the two will train daily to enhance obedience, proficiency and trust. Knowing their K9 and his or her every detail not only keeps the handler and dog safe, but those around them.
“As dog handlers, our main priority is to train 24/7 to ensure we are ready to deploy, keep people safe and find explosives,” said Miller.
In December 2015, Miller was assigned to work with Tessa. The two instantly clicked according to Miller. Tessa was an older dog, so she understood her role to the fullest and when the two met, they clicked immediately. With incredible determination and desire, Tessa would often push her limits. Miller had to learn quickly how to recognize Tessa’s limits to ensure she was given time to rest and relax. After six months together, Miller felt like Tessa knew exactly what he wanted her to do, practically reading his mind when they worked.
While deployed with the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, Miller and Tessa’s bond grew even stronger while serving in the Middle East. During their deployment, Miller and Tessa were assigned to clear a large area where a forward operating base would soon be established. Miller said his fondest memories were spending day-in and day-out, working under the hot sun and sleeping together in dirt holes.
This year, Tessa will be retiring from the Marine Corps. During her glory days, she displayed immense loyalty to the Marines she worked with. Miller says the greatest thing Tessa taught him was about patience and to enjoy the time he shares with those who mean the most. The bond they built in just two years was powerful.
“It is kind of unexplainable,” said Miller. “I can’t explain the bond we share with the dogs we trust our lives with.”