To enlist in the US Marines, requirements such as being at least 17 years old and having two legs must be met. For some four-legged Marines, their training begins shortly after birth, and they must hone their craft for two years before being assigned to their trainer on a military installation.

Cpl. Ivan Perez, a military working dog handler, and Jack, a military working dog, with the Provost Marshal’s Office, Marine Corps Base Camp Smedley D. Butler, are one of the Okinawan duos working to ensure the security of Marine Corps installations in the Pacific. PMO K-9 teams are on continuous shifts at all bases in Okinawa, trained and prepared for emergencies such as suspect arrests, pursuit attacks, building searches, field scouting, detection drugs and explosives.

Together, Perez and Jack, a 6-year-old, 80-pound German Shepherd who specializes in explosives detection, trained together for nearly a year. Jack had two other handlers before Perez and was deployed with two Marine Expeditionary Units to provide explosives detection security.

“Trust and relationships are the most important part of this relationship,” Perez said. “My life is in Jack’s hands, and his life is in mine. As Jack had other managers, it took us a few months to establish a full relationship with each other. He was stubborn at first, but I rose to the challenge. Our relationship continues to grow stronger every day.

All US Army MWDs are trained to pursue attacks, apprehend suspects, and search buildings. Dogs are separated into two categories; specialized in the detection of explosives or drugs.

“One of the things that a team like Cpl. Perez and Jack are tasked with building a direct and safe route to explosives for the response units. Staff Sgt. Eduardo Bonilla, kennel master with PMO

“Once this explosive is located by the team, response units like Explosive Ordnance Disposal will come in and do the rest of the work, but it’s critical that the K-9 unit locate this explosive in first,” said Staff Sgt. Eduardo Bonilla, the kennel master with PMO.

Bonilla explained that 17 Marines and 16 dogs make up the K-9 unit, one of the largest in the Marine Corps. He said it is not only important that the dogs are trained, but that the handlers are also highly skilled in anything they may encounter in training scenarios or emergencies.

“In emergency situations, Jack is not only a physical deterrent, but also a psychological deterrent,” Perez said. “A situation is much less likely to escalate when K-9s are present due to the intimidation factors they bring to the storyline.”

Perez explained that each day, the pair conduct different types of bite and scent detection training, either independently or with other MWDs and unit handlers. In addition to this training, including weekends, Perez said he makes sure Jack is fed, clean, stretched, well-groomed and exceeds fitness standards.

Typically, MWDs can serve up to 10 years, depending on their breed, bone and joint health. After retirement, dogs are usually adopted by one of their masters.

“We have about 160 MWD managers in the Marine Corps, which means I’m extremely lucky to be in this community,” Perez said. “Every MWD manager has a passion for what they do every day. My passion is being able to build my relationship with Jack and help keep MCIPAC safe.