CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. (AP) - Staff Sgt. Brian Little and his bomb-sniffing German shepherd Kazan were sent to the Middle East for Operation Enduring Freedom after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.
Now they're patrolling the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah, where the spectators and athletes seem glad to see security forces.
"They tell us every day," he said. "Walking around the different venues, people stop us and tell us, 'Thank you."'
Little, a Cape Girardeau native, graduated from Central High School in 1995 and enlisted in the Air Force soon afterward, looking for a challenge. In a phone interview from Salt Lake City, he said he found it.
Almost everyone volunteered for canine patrol training at the Air Force Law Enforcement Academy, but only the top six were taken. Little passed a battery of tests and an oral interview. Applicants also had to walk a distance with several sandbags, simulating carrying an injured dog to safety.
In Little's line of work, your dog is your partner.
He is a member of the U.S. Air Force 341st Security Forces Squadron based at Malmstrom AFB in Great Falls, Mont. He and Kazan have been at the Olympic venue since early January and will remain until sometime in March.
Little was not allowed to discuss any specifics of the dog's training or the operations he's worked on.
He is trained to work with both drug- and bomb-sniffing dogs, although the dogs are not cross-trained. Most are also trained as patrol dogs.
In his first assignment, he and a drug-sniffing dog named Luke worked with U.S. Customs agents at Nogales, Ariz. Later he teamed with a drug-sniffing dog in South Korea.
The Air Force currently uses German, Belgian and Dutch shepherds along with a breed called Belgian Malinois. All working dogs, they are chosen for strong sniffing behavior, for searching endurance and, as patrol dogs, for their aggression.
"But it also has to be a breed that has the intelligence to harness that aggression," Little said. Pit bulls, he said, would not make good patrol dogs.
A hockey fan, Little barely has time to be starstruck at the Olympics. He has seen many of his hockey idols including Wayne Gretzky, executive director of the Canadian team.
The ultra-tight security means people at the Olympics can enjoy themselves watching hockey games or downhill skiing, he said. "Our presence here makes them feel so much better. That's one of the reasons we are here."
He and his wife, Cheryl, have a daughter, 5-year-old Taylor. His parents, Dan and Cookie Little, live in Cape Girardeau. They are proud of their son and confident he can handle the dangers of the job.
"We really have a lot of trust in his training and his discipline," Dan Little said.
They also are aware their son is on the front lines of a new kind of war. "When I went to Operation Enduring Freedom," Brian said, "they were probably just as nervous as I was."
His father is reassured by his son's assessment of his own job.
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"All I do is find the bombs," Brian told his parents. "The fools come in and take them apart."