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December 6, 2011 at 3:47am

Transit Center, McChord K-9 teams train together

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TRANSIT CENTER AT MANAS, Kyrgyzstan -- After three years of working with the National Security Service of Kyrgyzstan working dog program, the 376th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron military working dog trainer is preparing to return to the States.

Joe Villalobos has been part of the program since he arrived at the Transit Center at Manas. He assisted the NSS in selecting most of their working dogs as puppies for the program and helped those dogs grow into skilled professionals.

The program began five years ago when the NSS asked the Transit Center MWD intructor for help in starting a working dog program. The NSS provides security for the Kyrgyz Republic president and other high-level dignitaries.

"Since we are subject matter experts and have been doing this for so long, they came to us for guidance," said Villalobos, a native of Sanger, Calif.

Kyrgyz Republic Lt. Col. Natalie Balavrikova has been part of the program since the beginning.

Initially the program stated with two dogs and today there are eight, Balavrikova said.

The Kyrgyz Republic does not have a K-9 academy.

"We did not have any programs or trainers who would help and assist us in training our dogs for detection," Balavrikova said. "That is why we are very grateful this program started and it has kept going. This is a very big asset for us to have these puppies trained by experts in order to prevent terrorist attacks in our republic."

Dog handlers from two organizations train twice a week. The NSS teams come here to work on explosive detection and the Transit Center teams travel to Bishkek to work on patrol skills.

"It is always a learning experience for both parties anytime you get a group of K-9 handlers together," Villalobos said. "There are always experiences others have had that they can teach to the group. We can learn from their experiences, and they can learn from our experiences. The goal is to keep advancing the dog teams."

Villalobos, who learned how to be an MWD trainer at Joint Base San Antonio, Texas, said the NSS working dogs receive the same level of training as the Transit Center dogs.

"When our dogs come here, most of the time they are pretty squared away; if they have a deficiency we will correct it's but is nothing like starting with a puppy," he said. "After working with the same dog for three years you are going to see that bond and rapport (become stronger). The handlers are able to read their dogs and know what their dogs are thinking at every moment. So it is kind of cool to see them come together, especially seeing the puppies go from that 'little thing' to these big monsters that want to go out, find bombs and bite people. It is cool to know we helped accomplish that."

The program is mutually beneficial.

"When I came here and found out about this program, it was fascinating to me, because it is a great opportunity for us as trainers and kennel masters to work with other agencies," said Tech. Sgt. Andrew Esparza, the 376th ESFS kennel master deployed from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz. "Doing this makes us stronger handlers, trainers and kennel masters."

Villalobos, who will leave the Transit Center this winter, is very proud of his work with the program.

"After I leave, I hope the training continues the same, if not better than what we have established," he said. "Their dogs are going to get old and they are going to need new dogs to come online. Hopefully the stuff we taught them carries on, so when they get a puppy they know exactly where to start and if problems arise they know exactly how to tackle them."

Balavrikova also wants to see the program continue.

"Thanks to the Transit Center we have a big number of working dogs that are trained to a very high level," she said. "The training is a very big asset for us. It is very important to improve and develop our dogs."

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