Becoming Astro: MWD turned civilian

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Andrea Posey
  • 1st Special Operations Wing Public Affairs
A military working dog was unable to complete his training at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, in April 2011.

MWD Astor became sick and ran into issues with the increased speed of his graduating class. This forced his Air Force retirement and he entered into the law enforcement adoption program.

Once adopted, Astor became "Astro, the narcotic detection dog," according to Fort Walton Beach Police Department Cpl. Charles Pettis, K-9 unit/patrol officer.

Astro's journey into the police force began at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., according to Pettis.

"Astro and I spent about three months training at Eglin every Monday and Friday," he said. "They put us through the military certification required for their dogs to qualify. Then, we came out to the civilian world and passed the civilian version of the qualification."

Pettis said Astro does many of the things the military trained him to do. However, he isn't used for apprehension work, like he may have been in the military.

"The military is more free with their dogs, because they are used in a war zone and on military installations," he said. "[Local police departments] have to follow the constitutional amendments to keep from violating human rights."

Along with his duties as a narcotic detection dog, Astro serves at community events.

Pettis said Astro attended several events in October, including dog park openings, a clothing drive, and a Halloween night. At these events, he interacts with adults and children alike.

"I am very happy with him," said Pettis. "He's finding a lot of narcotics and is a great social dog. I don't think we could have asked for a better dog."

FWBPD Capt. Tom Matz, patrol division commander, said the police force appreciates the military's adoption program and what it offers. Typically, budget constraints limit canine purchases. 

"Canines can cost $10k to $75k for one dog, depending if the dog has been trained or not," he said.

The military and local police departments work together often, Matz said.

For example, FWBPD invites security forces to train with them about twice a year on active shooter scenarios, Matz said. Also, the two organizations respond together on calls regarding explosives.

As for Astro's future endeavors, Matz said he wants to bring him to local schools to represent the soft face of the police force.

"We've talked about starting a program for the elementary schools, kind of like Drug Abuse Resistance and Education," Matz said. "But, we would focus on the canine and drug detection."

This could teach kids about drugs and policy in a way they will remember, Pettis said.