Staff Sgt. Greg Maatta, 341st Security Forces Squadron, military working dog handler, and Blitz, a Belgian Malinois bomb dog, perform tactical obedience exercises April 2, outside the 341st SFS MWD kennel. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Dillon White)
Staff Sgt. John Johnson, 341st Security Forces Squadron military working dog handler, and Bibi, Belgian Malinois bomb dog, pause for a photo opportunity in Santiago, Chile, where the team was on temporary duty assignment with the United States Secret Service in support of a vice presidential visit March 25 to 30. (Courtesy photo)
by Senior Airman Dillon White
341st Missile Wing Public Affairs Office
4/10/2009 - MALMSTROM AIR FORCE BASE, Mont., -- Two 341st Security Forces Squadron military working dog teams deployed to Santiago, Chile, March 25 to 30 in support of Vice President Joe Biden's visit there.
Staff Sgts. Greg Maatta and John Johnson, with their partners Blitz and Bibi, supported the United States Secret Service by sweeping hotel rooms, hallways, elevators and the area surrounding the hotel where Vice President Biden stayed. The teams swept for explosive devices prior to the vice president's arrival at the hotel and continually re-checked areas during his visit.
According to a White House press release, the vice president was in Santiago to attend a conference with the Presidents of Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Uruguay, and the Prime Ministers of Spain, Norway and the United Kingdom.
Although the teams did not meet Vice President Biden, they said they enjoyed the temporary duty assignment.
"This was the first Secret Service mission I've done," Sergeant Maatta said. "We were responsible for the entire hotel, and it was one of the biggest hotels in Santiago."
The two teams from Malmstrom were responsible for a 25-story four-star hotel. Unlike deployed areas, the air conditioning provided a comfortable working environment for the Belgian-Malinois bomb dogs, Sergeant Johnson said.
Sergeants Maatta and Johnson left their Airman Battle Uniforms at home during the trip, as the teams do not wear military uniforms when working for the Secret Service.
"Your military affiliation takes a back seat," Sergeant Maatta said. "For all intents and purposes, you are a Secret Service agent, so you wear what they wear, and that's anything from formal dress with a tie, to a polo shirt and khaki pants. This just helps you blend into the group you work around."
When the team showed up at the Santiago Airport, they were met by the noses of dogs trained to search for a type of contraband less ordinary for a dog to be trained to find -- food.
"It is against the law to transport food in and out of Chile, so the dogs zeroed in on Sergeant Johnson's bag," Sergeant Maatta said. "We still joke about that."
Both of the sergeants were carrying their dog's food in their backpacks, and when they were walking through the airport, an airport security dog singled out Sergeant Johnson.
The Secret Service agent in charge of their mission was at the airport to pick them up, and it was agreed the dog food was not contraband.
When they made it to the hotel, they were given times to arrive for duty, and "black-and-white" instructions, Sergeant Maatta said.
The two Malmstrom teams were part of a four-team unit, comprised of teams from various military branches. Each team also worked with four explosive ordnance disposal teams, consisting of two technicians from various services each.
"There is no [on the job training]," Sergeant Maatta said. "They expect you to be ready to go when you get there."
The job required the teams to work roughly eight hours a day. Sergeant Maatta worked the night shift, and Sergeant Johnson worked during the days.
Constant sweeps of areas were normal during their on-duty time, Sergeant Johnson said.
"I swept one hallway about 16 times one afternoon," Sergeant Johnson said. "Every time someone comes in or out of an area, it has to be swept, and it doesn't matter how recent it was when they last came through."
When the teams were not sweeping the hotel for explosives, they were sweeping Santiago, Chile, for lunch, and a few photo opportunities.
The sergeants are both looking forward to their next TDY in support of the Secret Service, they said.