Inside the Gates: Callie 'the flying dog' aims to change search and rescue missions
During a summer trip to Alaska, air national guardsmen from Kentucky trained with Alaska air national guardsmen by doing static-line jumps or water drops into ocean waters near Homer. Making the trip with the squadron — and standing quietly in the shadows — was a 2-year-old dutch shepherd named Callie.
Callie is one of the first search and rescue dogs associated with the military, 1st Lt. Combat Rescue Officer with the 123rd Special Tactics Squadron Oliver Smith said. Qualified to jump out of an aircraft, she's the only dog in the Department of Defense that sports that kind of credential.
"She's actually jump qualified so she's jumped, she's attached to her handler and they parachuted out of the aircraft, they've flown together on helicopters," Smith said. "So she's there for pretty much everything we are."
The idea of having dogs help with search and rescue operations was formed in 2010 when Master Sgt. Rudy Parsons, a pararescueman with the Kentucky Air Guard’s 123rd Special Tactics Squadron, made a trip to Haiti to help clean up after an earthquake.
Airmen at the location were told a schoolhouse had been destroyed and that 40 kids were trapped under it. A crew of special tactics airmen spent several days clearing the area to search for the children.
Days later, the Federal Emergency Management Agency arrived with a dog and cleared the area in 20 minutes, determining no one was in the rubble and accomplishing in minutes what a crew had been working on for days.
Parsons developed the squadron’s Search and Rescue K-9 program, which launched in 2018. It's designed to help disaster response teams locate and recover people through specially trained dogs like Callie.
"Somehow she can smell somebody and most of the time she surprises me because I wouldn't even believe that the person that she found is actually where she's telling me the person's at," Parsons said.
Callie allows the squadron to search in areas that may take hours or days to get to.
"She can search a city block in a short period of time," Smith said. "Equivalent to what it would take 10 operators about two hours to do so that nose of hers is pretty key."
Callie is a member of the squadron and makes most of the jumps with the other pararescuemen.
"Callie weighs 50 pounds and she gets herself around," Parson said. "Oppose to us lugging around a bunch of equipment on our backs or in a vehicle taking up space. Callie beats any type of equipment or machine with just her capability."
Callie also has her own parachuting gear, including goggles and special protection for her ears. The squadron tries to take her on as many flight as possible to help her adjust to different types of aircraft.
"It's the vibration, the noise, the movement," Smith said. "We want to make sure that she's conformable at all times and just knowing what the operators are doing and being around us as often as she is has really helped with that process."
Parsons is optimistic the program will grow to routinely deploy with special tactics personnel recovery teams and global access teams.
Right now it's just Callie — and Parsons is okay with that.
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