by Ryan Labadens, U.S. Navy Public Affairs

Spending time with co-workers you like can be one of the many rewarding aspects of working at a job. For some people, it’s even more rewarding when several of your co-workers have four legs instead of two.

That’s how Master-at-Arms 1st Class Robert Dorato, the new kennel master in the Security Department onboard Naval Construction Battalion Center (NCBC) Gulfport, feels every day when he comes to work.

For Dorato, joining the Navy was a path he felt driven to follow from his youth. His father had served as an aircraft mechanic for C-130 cargo aircraft in the Navy back during the 1980s, and Dorato noted that this was a driving force behind his decision to join.

He grew up in Niagara Falls, New York, and enlisted in the Navy in 2010 through the Delayed Entry Program so that he could join right when he got out of high school.

Dorato attended the Master-at-Arms A-school at Naval Technical Training Center Lackland, Texas, and after completing his training he received orders to attend the Expeditionary Combat Skills (ECS) course here in Gulfport, the only other time he has ever been to the Gulf Coast Navy base.

After completing ESC, Dorato checked into his first command with Maritime Expeditionary Security Squadron (MSRON) 4, a part of the Maritime Expeditionary Security Command (MESC) in Portsmouth, Virginia, in January 2012.

In 2014, while still attached to MSRON 4, Dorato started working on his off time at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story Kennels as kennel support in hopes of becoming a military working dog (MWD) handler.

“They really test you out to see if this is something you want to do and if you would be a good fit for working with K9s. It’s a long-term job interview, so it can take three to six months for [supervisors] to decide if you’re fit for K9,” said Dorato.

The Niagara Falls native noted that he had several dogs when he was growing up, so finding an opportunity to work with animals was something that had always intrigued him.

“I loved the aspect of working with K9s and being a police officer,” said Dorato. “When I joined, I initially wanted to be a K9 officer, so I asked what the route was, and [my recruiters] said to take the Master-at-Arms route and you might have a chance to do it,” said Dorato.

He was finally accepted into the MWD program just before his deployment with MSRON 4, and in 2015 he went to Lackland Air Force Base to attend the Air Forces Military Working Dog Handlers Course, a joint-service training course attended by all MWD handlers, and he graduated in March 2016. He served at several different bases, working as an MWD handler and then eventually as a kennel supervisor, before being selected to attend the Master-at-Arms Law Enforcement Specialist Course and Air Forces Military Working Dog Trainer/Kennel Master Course from November 2021 to February 2022.

After completing those courses and a little more than 10 years of Navy security experience, Dorato is now back on the Mississippi Gulf Coast filling the role of the Security Department kennel master onboard NCBC, which is his first time serving in that position.

The position here had been gapped for nearly two years before Dorato was brought in to fill it. While the department did have dog handlers at NCBC available to act as kennel supervisors during that period, Dorato noted that to qualify as a kennel master, a handler must at least have the rank of Master-at-Arms 1st Class, have served as a military working dog handler for at least four years, and graduated from the Kennel Master Course.

As kennel master, Dorato’s responsibilities are primarily supervisory. He oversees the documentation of training and makes sure program requirements are up to date, and he ensures the living conditions and the health of the dogs are properly maintained.

Dorato said the two main breeds of military working dogs used by the armed forces are German Shepherds and Belgian Malinois, and they train them in narcotics detection, explosives and patrol (or apprehension).

“That’s the typical bite work that you see, where the handler is wearing the bite suit and the dog is being trained to apprehend them,” said Dorato.

One other aspect that Dorato truly loves about working with K9s and MWD handlers is that it feels as if he’s working and training together as part of one big family.