It’s human nature to want to pet a dog when you see one. However, as you get closer to a military working dog on Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, you’ll soon notice the words “DO NOT PET” sewn into their collar in bright yellow letters, and a dog handler not far from the. As disappointed as some may be, it’s important to heed this warning, as MWDs are trained to detect hazardous substances and attack on command.
Every military working dog at MCAS Cherry Point receives a dog handler. However, being an MWD manager is not a glamorous job. Not only is it competitive, but it requires a Marine who is willing to put in a lot of extra time and effort.
U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Kaleb Aikens is one such manager. When he first enlisted, Aikens’ goal was to become a military police officer. However, when the opportunity arose to work with dogs in a military setting, Aikens knew he had to take advantage of it.
“When I got to military police school, I was asked who all wanted to go to Lackland Air Force Base for the dog handler course,” Aikens said. “I knew that was what I wanted in my career.”
Before attending the manager’s course, there is a long list of prerequisites that a Marine must meet. First, every Marine must have a 1st class combat ability test, a physical fitness test, and rifle and pistol expert badges. Additionally, applicants must appear before senior MWD managers to make their case on why they should be selected. In Aikens’ class, only eight Marines were selected to take the manager’s course. After successfully completing the Manager’s Course, Aikens checked into MCAS Cherry Point, Headquarters, and Headquarters Squadron.
“I knew it would be tough,” Aikens said.
“Not many people have been able to do it, but it was definitely the hardest thing I’ve done so far.” Cpl. Kaleb Aikens, military working dog handler
At MCAS Cherry Point, Aikens worked with Master Sgt. Jenna Cauble, who brings years of experience to the kennel. Cauble is currently a K-9 unit trainer, where her job is to supervise and ensure that all handlers and dogs are competent.
One thing Cauble notes is that Aikens completely immersed himself in building a bond with his dog, Rudy. He is regularly seen at the kennel on his days off, working with his dog since they have been a couple. Forming a bond is key to training dogs to listen to their master’s voice.
“Aikens is the newest manager we have, but he puts a lot of effort into it,” Cauble said. “He has improved a lot from the start until now and he will continue to improve. His confidence is much higher than it was when it comes to detection and patrol issues.
Looking ahead, Aikens hopes to improve his skills.
“What excites me the most is the challenge,” Aikens said. “It is always possible to change when you work with another living being. It’s different every day, you never know what to expect. I like this.”