People have used dogs to protect themselves and property since prehistoric times. Military forces have used trained dogs the world over since the first military units were organized. Canines were used in warfare throughout history supporting combat operations. From these ancient beginnings, over 30,000 dogs have served in the US military in harm‘s way and are responsible for saving thousands of lives.

The United States did not make extensive use of dogs prior to 1942. In early 1943, Mr. James M. Austin organized the War Dog program and by that July, more than 11,000 dogs had been procured. On May 1, 1957, the responsibility to train sentry dogs was taken over by the Air Force from the Army. The USAF Sentry Dog program was a product of the Korean War. By 1965 the USAF had a pool of sentry dog teams available for deployment to South Vietnam. Nightly at every air base, sentry dog teams were deployed as a detection and warning screen in the zone separating combat forces from the perimeter. Nearly all air base defense personnel agreed that the Sentry Dog Teams rendered outstanding service. Some went so far as to say “Of all the equipment and methods used to detect an attacking enemy force, the sentry dog has provided the most sure, all inclusive means.”


Left to right – A1C Ramon Pacheco, Ralph Heath’s sentry dog “Neck” who tended to go for the bad guy’s neck, A1C George Chafey

Left – Nolan Watson with sentry dog Axel, Center – Ralph Heath with sentry dog Neck

Left to right: Thomas McCreery, Curt Franklin, Louis Morgantini

Dog Handlers - demonstration

Ralph Heath’s sentry dog Neck in training

Nolan Watson’s sentry dog Axel in training

K-9 Kennel


The first dog school was established at Lackland AFB, TX, where it remains to this day as the Dept of Defense Military Working Dog School. The school is responsible for procuring all dogs for the DoD and training dogs and handlers for all branches of the military. Lackland AFB is where the U.S. Armed Forces has been training its military working dog teams since 1958. It is the world’s largest training center for military dogs and handlers and is also home to the largest veterinary hospital for military working dogs.

Lackland AFB “Dog School,” pic from 2013 reunion in San Antonio, Right: Retired Military Working Dog

Military working dogs proved they are War Dogs on many occasions during combat action in Vietnam. In the predawn hours of December 4, 1966, Tan Son Nhut AB was attacked by a large force of Viet Cong commando raiders. The raiders used a single avenue of approach through friendly force positions outside the base perimeter. Once inside the base, the raiders divided into small groups to attack their targets. Several sentry dogs stationed on the perimeter gave the initial alert and warning almost simultaneously. Because of this early warning, the 377th Air Police Squadron was able to repel the attack after seven long hours of fighting. When the battle was over, 13 Viet Cong and one Security Policeman, who was trying to save his supervisor, were dead and one canine handler was wounded. Many of the remaining VC took refuge in vegetation, wells, and local graveyards to wait for the opportunity to escape or attack again.

Dog from Lackland AFB “Dog School,” picture from 2013 Los Toros reunion in San Antonio

One Dog's Story

Around 1900 hrs, military working dog Nemo alerted his handler A2C Robert A. Thorneburg to the presence of VC who had avoided earlier detection. During the attack, a bullet caught Airman Thorneburg on his shoulder and Nemo was hit in the muzzle area, but not before Nemo killed at least one VC raider. Ignoring his serious head wound, the 85-pound dog threw himself at the VC guerillas who had opened fire. Nemo‘s ferocious defense bought Airman Thorneburg the time he needed to call upon back-up forces. Finally, the Quick Response Team members were able to carry Thorneburg and Nemo out to safety where they received emergency treatment. Both recovered; however, Nemo was permanently disfigured and lost the use of one eye. Nemo was credited with saving his handler‘s life and preventing further destruction of life and property. On June 23, 1967, HQ USAF directed Nemo be returned to Lackland AFB, TX, as the first sentry dog officially retired from military service. Nemo was only one of the many dogs who served, and continue to serve, faithfully and honorably in the United States Air Force.

U.S. Military Working Dogs National Monument at Lackland Air Force Base, San Antonio, Texas

 U.S. Military Working Dogs Training School  
Department of Defense, Lackland AFB

The 341st Squadron operates the Military Working Dog Program for the Department of Defense. The MWD training environment consists of 62 training areas, encompassing over 3,350 acres, 691 kennel spaces and an average population of over 400 dogs located at Lackland AFB and the Lackland Training Annex, San Antonio, Texas. All military working dogs and handlers are trained at the 341st Training Squadron, which is fondly called the “Dog School.” The Air Force alone is authorized for over 500 dogs and has hundreds of dogs assigned worldwide. Training includes patrol, scouting, searching, detecting, and attack. An adoption program finds suitable homes for Military Working Dogs upon their retirement.


  1. In ’57, my Upper Heyford “crew” penetrated RAF Lakenheath (Hi Chief Vickery) and my Chief MSgt Louis James “carried” a K-9 into the AP Desk Sgt to complain about their “Prohibited” release of dogs (unattended) in the MMS area! (Louie climbed the fence and caught the dog with a “Wimpy Burger”!). Then in ’58 at Homestead we “Processed-Out” all our Doberman Pinchers for constantly biting their handler!
    Then in ’68, two handlers at Minot shot one another “Playing Quick-Draw” and I refused my General’s “automatic reflex” written reprimand and insisted on “Court Martial in-lieu”! B/Gen Hogan backed-off and on a tour of Pleiku, Vietnam in 1970 introduced me to Sec USAF as the best cop he ever had! P.S. where is Otto’s old photo of Cliff Shealey, Bob Maple and me showing-off “The Little Bitch War Dog” to a dozen Spanish VIPs?

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