Citizen Airmen devoted to canine training, airport security

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Theanne Herrmann
  • 624th Regional Support Group, 48th Aerial Port Squadron
HONOLULU, Hawaii – Passengers waiting in line for security at the Honolulu International Airport came in contact with a passenger screening dog, equipped with a harness that says “DO NOT PET” who walked vigilantly amongst the line of people.

The canine known as Zip, a German short-haired pointer, is being tested to see if he can pinpoint the “decoy”, or volunteer, who is carrying simulated explosive material through the security line. If Zip successfully identifies the decoy in various training scenarios, he will gain employment on the elite Transportation Security Administration Explosive Detection Canine team.

Within a matter of minutes Zip provided his handler with the correct alert, his eyes glued to the suspected passenger.

“When a dog finds a very sensitive item that could put the public in harm’s way… it’s rewarding,” said Tara Corse, Regional K-9 training instructor for the TSA.

The canines must pass rigorous, real-world scenarios coordinated by Corse, who also serves as an Aerial Transportation Specialist with the 48th Aerial Port Squadron a Reserve unit based out of Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii.

Corse credits her Air Force career for giving her the insight to provide realistic training scenarios for the canines.

“When I transferred from Active Duty to the Reserves, I knew I was going to work at the airport as a K-9 instructor,” said Corse. “So I picked out the aerial port squadron specifically because it would help me in gaining knowledge of the airport environment and all of the inner workings.”

The 48th APS provides expertise in all areas of air terminal operations to include aircraft loading, cargo processing and inspecting passenger services worldwide in support of contingency operations, disaster and humanitarian relief.

“My TSA job and Reserve career correlates and intermingles wonderfully,” said Corse. “I am also able to rely on volunteers from the Air Force Reserve to help us train the canines. We need new people each time we do a different scenario. If we used the same person, the dog will associate that person’s smell with the sensitive material. Changing the decoys challenges the dogs to ensure they are effective at their job.”

The TSA is selective when it comes choosing volunteers.

“We have a small pool of personnel we are allowed to use due to the sensitive items we are placing on the decoys,” said Corse. “We would not be as successful today without the assistance of the Air Force and the Air Force Reserve.”

Master Sgt. Marilyn Kinoshita, member of the 624th Regional Support Group, volunteers as a decoy and encourages her team to participate.

“I volunteer because as an Airman, it is our duty and responsibility to safeguard and protect the people of the United States,” said Kinoshita. “The TSA is also a partner in this critical mission as they are the forefront of airport security and the first line of defense in air travel. Teaming up with TSA not only assists in recognizing gaps in their practices, but the outcome of our efforts contribute to corrective action plans that make air travel safe.”

The volunteers are able to get a first-hand look at how the TSA operates.

“They get to see why the TSA has all of the security requirements and restrictions,” said Corse. “The public doesn’t see all the layers of security and how difficult it is find certain things. The volunteers are able to see the actual capability of the canines and how well it helps in the entire process of screening passengers.”

The passengers are also able to witness the talent of the detection dogs since the security line is real-world, not staged.

“The traveling public is reassured even though it’s a test and not a real threat,” said Corse. “It gives the travelers piece of mind that these dogs are capable of finding even the smallest amount of explosive material on a person.”

After Kinoshita experienced Zip identifying her as the decoy as fast as he did, she believes the explosive detection canines enhance airport security.

“Either in the combat zones of Iraq, Afghanistan, or in the airports of America, these security professionals are on duty and trained to deter crisis,” said Kinoshita. “As a passenger, these dogs make me feel safe. As an Air Force warrior, it is good to know that these canine teams are professional, well-trained and on duty to support our war on terrorism.”