Bond like no other
Camp Butler, Okinawa, Japan -- In the back of the Camp Courtney Theater stands the kennel master for the Provost Marshal’s Office with Headquarters and Support Battalion, Marine Corps Installations-Pacific, Marine Corps Base Camp Butler, Japan, watching intently as duos of Marines and dogs take turns probing through the rows and rooms of the theater, in search of mock improvised explosive devices. He smirks and nods in approval as each duo finds the fake explosive.
“These are the days I love,” said the kennel master, Staff Sgt. Daniel Andrzejewski. “It’s the days I get out of the office and actually get to see the dogs do what they do that reminds me why I joined.”
Andrzejewski first discovered his passion for the K-9 field in 2007. After spending two years as a regular military policeman, guarding gates and roads on Camp Lejeune, Jacksonville, North Carolina, he was given the option to choose a secondary school.
“At first I chose K-9 mainly because I had friends who I worked the roads with, who went K-9 before me. So I figured, I’d just follow them,” said Andrzejewski. “But after awhile, I started to think, ‘Hey, this is actually pretty (interesting).’”
After completing K-9 School, Andrzejewski returned to Camp Lejeune as a dog handler. It was there he met his first dog, Gordon. Gordon was a K-9 veteran, with four combat deployments under his collar, making him the ideal partner to accompany Andrzejewski on his first deployment.
“Garrison K-9 and field K-9 are two completely different beasts,” said Andrzejewski. “(Field K-9) is almost impossible to fully prepare for, but the fact that (Gordon) had already been through it four times really helped me get ready. I learned a lot from working with Gordon.”
While deployed in Iraq, he and Gordon worked with numerous units, safe-guarding U.S. and allied assets installations while also providing bomb detection services for the 2009 Iraqi elections.
It wasn’t until Andrzejewski’s deployment to Afghanistan, later in his career, that he discovered the importance of the relationship between a handler and their dog.
According to Andrzejewski, due to constant reassignments, it was a challenge to form lasting friendships with his fellow Marines. However, no matter where he went, he knew he would always have at least one buddy.
“You get attached to different units, so a lot of the time, your dog is your only friend,” said Andrzejewski. “You eat together. You sleep together. You play together. Wherever you go, the dog goes.”
Their partnership was put to the ultimate test on one eventful patrol, according to Andrzejewski.
While patrolling through a village just outside of his patrol base’s gate on a scorching summer day, Andrzejewski noticed that Dano, his new K-9 partner, became extremely alert and began to sniff the air vigorously.
“As a handler, you need to know the ins and outs of your dog,” said Andrzejewski. “You have to be able to pick up on the little hints a dog will give once they’ve found something.”
The scent Dano detected was a sulfuric-based improvised explosive device. Insurgents planted the bomb on a path Andrzejewski’s patrol team had used the day prior but thanks to Dano, the Marines were able to uncover and safely dispose of the explosive.
“Out in the field, the entire patrol relies on the dog to find potential hazards and keep us alive,” said Andrzejewski. “That day (Dano) saved all of our lives.”
After working in the field for two tours, Andrzejewski was able to return to the garrison side of K-9, this time working as the kennel master for Camp Butler PMO. As the kennel master, Andrzejewski no longer has a partner. Instead his job is to focus on the administrative aspects of the kennel.
“I really enjoy my job now,” said Andrzejewski. “But some days I get bogged down with paper work. I love the days I get a chance to watch the new guys; train and teach them a few things.”
When not in his office, Andrzejewski spends his time challenging the handlers to better themselves. He accomplishes this by setting up complicated training events that compel the handlers to focus more on their own investigative skills.
“I like to set up scenarios that are different from what they are use too,” said Andrzejewski. “I like to put the training aids somewhere the dog may be able to catch the scent of the aid but can’t reach it. This kind of forces the handler to be more (attentive).”
According to Cpl. Justin A. Wagman, a military working dog handler for PMO, these scenarios force the handlers to work more intently with the dogs and helps forge a long lasting and fruitful partnership.
“I love being able to help out the younger handlers,” said Andrzejewski. “I may not get a chance to work with the dogs first-hand anymore but getting the opportunity to train the next group of (dog handlers) is just as satisfying.”
According to Andrzejewski, when not completing formal training, the dog spend their days playing fetch with their handlers or simply hanging out around the office while the Marines works.
“I love (seeing) that because it shows me these guys really do love and care for the dogs,” said Andrzejewski. “It’s the simple things that go a long way into building a great relationship between a handler and their dog.”