Military working dogs might look like your average pet, but they are highly trained animals used for security on military installations and in deployed environments. The Kansas City District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, is currently working on the planning, design and construction of a new kennel facility for the working dogs of the 22nd Security Forces Squadron located at McConnell Air Force Base, or MAFB, in Wichita, Kansas. The current kennels were constructed several decades ago and require much-needed updates.
“[The current kennel facility is] just antiquated,” said Gary Shirley, military programs project manager with the Kansas City District, “it doesn’t meet the current requirements for housing working dogs.”
Like the training of military working dogs, the kennel facilities that house the dogs must meet strict requirements that are mandated by the Department of Defense, or DoD, and the U.S. Air Force. The DoD requires the use of a standard design template but allows for modifications to accommodate each specific facility. For example, the design for the new facility at MAFB will take into account sun and wind exposure, among other things.
“We take into consideration sun angles for the outdoor kennels so the dogs aren’t sitting out there in the late afternoon getting hot, or [ensure the dogs will not] get all northerly wind exposure,” said Shirley. “The design of the kennels themselves is absolutely critical.”
Shirley and his team understood that the design of the new facility needed to accommodate the specific conditions at MAFB, not only for the dogs but also for their handlers. The team ensured that the handlers of the 22nd Security Forces Squadron were part of the design process so that the new facility meets the needs of the unit.
Tech. Sgt. Noah Hyatt, kennel master for the 22nd Security Forces Squadron, joined the team in November 2022, and his first thought when he was asked to provide feedback on the new kennel design was to improve quality of life for the dogs.
“When I first took on this project and saw the kennel … the first thing I thought of was how to make the dogs more effective because without the dogs, there’s no handlers,” said Hyatt. “So first we take care of the dogs, giving them the space they need, giving them the ability to rest… Operationally, it will make things much easier.”
Overall, the current facility is insufficient for the handlers and the dogs who work there. According to Shirley, the current facility doesn’t meet nearly a third of the current DoD requirements. The Kansas City District is working to ensure that problem is not repeated with the new facility.
“The military working dogs have a very strict regimen that the trainers and the dogs have to follow,” said Shirley. “[The design staff] go through a great deal of care to make sure that these facilities are designed to generate the least amount of stress on the dogs.”
MAFB’s mission is primarily air refueling, a vital part of the Air Force’s capability. The 22nd Security Forces Squadron dog handlers support that mission in many different ways.
“We support [MAFB’s mission] through securing the installation and law enforcement and conducting security patrols,” Hyatt said. “Whenever we get different types of resources coming in on the ground, we use our explosives dogs to sweep the area that crews go into. We also deploy our dogs.”
With projects like this, USACE is able to remove barriers that inhibit servicemembers from performing a necessary job to ensure national security. The handlers take a lot of pride in their work, not only in the security they provide to the installation, but in training the dogs to be the best they can be.
“I think it’s the satisfaction that comes out of training the dogs,” said Staff Sgt. Joshua Espinoza Stewart, military working dog trainer. “Training dog teams and [certifying] them … I know, hey, I was able to train that team and put them out there, and now they’re in the fight.”
These working dogs are highly trained and highly skilled. The handlers of the 22nd Security Forces Squadron understand better than most, the duty and sacrifice that is asked of military working dogs. The respect that exists between the working dogs and their handlers is evident.
“You know, we talk about mental health of people in the military all the time, but it’s huge in the dogs as well and you can tell,” said Hyatt. “When dogs are in a better kennel environment, they don’t have these issues.”
By working with the handlers directly during the design phase, Shirley and his team were able to understand the importance of this project.
“This is about the animals,” said Shirley. “They needed this pretty badly.”
The new kennel facility, which is currently in the design phase, will be built from the ground up and cost about $5.3 million. The project has an anticipated completion date in 2026.