MCAS CHERRY POINT, N.C. --
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” stitched into their collar in bright yellow letters, and a handler not far away. As disappointed as some might be, it’s important to heed that warning because MWDs are trained to detect dangerous substances and attack on command.
Each military working dog at MCAS Cherry Point is issued a handler. However, being a MWD handler is no 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 of those handlers. 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 needed to take advantage of the opportunity.
“When I got to military police school, it was asked who all wanted to go to Lackland Air Force Base for the handler course,” Aikens said. “I knew that was what I wanted in my career.”
Prior to attending the handler course, there’s a lengthy list of pre-requisites a Marine must meet. First, each Marine must have a 1st class Combat Fitness Test, Physical Fitness Test, and rifle and pistol expert badges. Additionally, applicants must go before senior MWD handlers to plead their case on why they should be selected. In Aikens’ class, only eight Marines were selected to attend the handler course. After successfully completing the handler course, Aikens checked into MCAS Cherry Point, Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron.
“I knew it'd be challenging,” Aikens said.
“Not a lot of people get to do it, but it was definitely the most challenging thing I've done so far.” Cpl. Kaleb Aikens, a military working dog handler
While at MCAS Cherry Point, Aikens has worked with Staff Sgt. Jenna Cauble, who brings years of experience to the kennel. Cauble currently serves as the trainer of the K-9 unit, where her job is to supervise and ensure all handlers and dogs are proficient.
One thing Cauble notes is Aikens has fully immersed himself into building a bond with his dog, Rudy. He’s regularly seen at the kennel on his days off, working with his dog since they were paired together. Forming a bond is essential to train the dogs to listen to their handler’s voice.
“Aikens is the newest handler we have but he puts a lot of work into it,” Cauble said. “He's progressed a lot from the start to right now and he's gonna keep progressing. His confidence is way higher than it was when it comes to detection problems and patrol.”
Looking ahead, Aikens hopes to improve his skills.
“What makes me the most passionate is the challenge,” Aikens said. “It's always possible to change when you are working with another living thing. It's different every day, you never know what to expect. I love that.”