JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas – Coordinated efforts brought more than 300 volunteers together to safely secure military working dogs (MWD) before an Arctic blast hit the South Texas region Feb. 14, 2021. Impending freezing temperatures, ice, and snow resulted in a large-scale evacuation that became the forefront of everyday operations.
The 341st Training Squadron, mission partner Transportation Security Administration handlers, permanent party military, students and civilians began moving over 800 canines indoors Feb. 13.
“This is the first time in almost two decades that the 341st TRS … [evacuated] dogs from the main base or annex kennels for an emergency situation,” stated Lt. Col. Matthew Kowalski, squadron commander.
Crates and food were transferred to “get our four-legged warriors out of the cold in anticipation” of the weather ahead with operations beginning in the afternoon and moving into the evening. “The focus was getting all the dogs under our care warm and safe. Our mission is the dogs. Without them we have no mission,” Kowalski said.
Master Sgt. Matthew Lee, MWD Course Flight Chief, said canine lives were saved through endurance and teamwork.
“Our joint service men and woman displayed true grit, and the perseverance and passion to take care of one of our national assets whose senses can’t be replaced by machine or technology,” he remarked.
Throughout the week, military working dog handlers worked day and night ensuring canines adjusted to their new environment with food, water, and breaks.
“Just like the strength of a storm challenges the strongest of structures, the bonds of the 341st Training Squadron’s animal caretakers, handlers, and volunteers stood strong together and overcame the chaos,” said Tech. Sgt. Brian Claypool, MWD Kennel Master Course Instructor.
The Department of Defense Military Working Dog Veterinary Service continued supporting operations caring for canines with health issues, offering guidance, and providing visual health assessments once the evacuation ended.
“In my almost 24 years of service, I have never witnessed a community come together and support an operation…” like this, said Chief Master Sgt. Erik Blanco, chief enlisted manager for the squadron. “K9 really does lead the way.”
With weather temperatures returning to normal during the weekend, teammates cleared, cleaned, and sanitized both indoor and outdoor kennels in preparation for the move back.
“As the commander of the 341st TRS, and on behalf of our mission partners at TSA and the U.S. Army Veterinarians, I want to thank all those volunteers, fosters, and military working dog supporters who have brought food, donated towels and blankets or have donated funds to our charity organizations,” Kowalski said.
Blanco said he was grateful for all the contributions and added, “From all the men and women, along with our four-legged heroes, thank you.”
Drive, diligence, and tremendous efforts did not go unseen. Col. Joyce Storm, 37th TRG commander expressed her appreciation in having “all hands on deck” before, during, and after the storm.
“Many permanent party responded to the mission’s need, despite personal hardships. Student leaders stepped it up several notches to take care of their fellow Airmen’s needs resulting from several facility and personal well-being catastrophes. Individual Airmen – not in leadership roles – took it upon themselves to help their situation by being vocal and bringing their needs to me personally, and their leadership,” Storm said. “I am truly honored to be serving beside such servant leader Airmen.”