Robot dogs bring the bark to Barksdale

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  • 2nd Bomb Wing Public Affairs

“These robot dogs not only have the potential to save Airmen's lives, but they also serve as a reminder of how valuable your voice is, regardless of rank.”

Master Sgt. Dominic Garcia, the emergency management flight chief from the 2nd Civil Engineer Squadron, devised the concept of robot dogs and while he advanced his idea into building and testing the robots he learned some valuable lessons along the way.

The journey to robot dogs

Garcia is originally from Denver, enlisted in the Air Force in 2006 and spent a majority of his career working under the Air Force Global Strike Command.

In 2017, Garcia deployed to Syria from his home station at Dyess Air Force Base, Texas.

After returning from his deployment Garcia reflected on his time in Syria.

“I had a really hard time adjusting back, and when you're trying to adjust back, you replay a lot of things in your head,” said Garcia. “You replay certain situations, you think what could I have done better? What could I have done differently?”

While reflecting on his deployment he remembered seeing canine teams on some of the chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear missions. He said while he considered the things he would improve he wondered if there was a way to arm the dogs with detectors instead of sending an entire team into a potentially hazardous environment.

In 2019 Garcia was one of six AFGSC Airmen of the Year award recipients and met people from across AFGSC. His networking led to the opportunity to bring the concept of robot dogs to life through the Air Force Work Project.

AFWERX is an Air Force innovation program that connects Airmen with technology developers to evolve creative ideas into reality.

While Garcia worked on his concept with AFWERX he connected with the company, Ghost Robotics, who agreed to build the robot dogs.

In 2022 Garcia and his team applied for and was awarded $1.25 million dollars for the project through the Silver Award Grant.

Garcia said he was delightfully surprised as he discovered opportunities and programs as he progressed in his journey to make his robot dog idea possible.

“All I knew up until 2018 and 2019 was, if you want something done, you have to wait for policy or requirements,” said Garcia. “I didn't know that there's this whole other side of the Air Force that allows you to fast track and get what you need, kind of at the speed of relevancy to the tactical edge.”

Once the robot parts were ready and delivered Garcia and his team assembled the parts into two robotic canines.

The team tested the functionality of the newly assembled robot dogs then advanced to testing their capabilities to tackle CBRN incidents. The team tested the robot dogs CBRN readiness through radioactive sites at the Defense Nuclear Weapons School at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico. Garcia and his team tested the robot dogs on terrain usability, detection, sensor data feedback and communication at the Dugway Proving Grounds in Utah.

Garcia and his new flight at Barksdale have continued testing the robotic canines through further research and development.

One of Garcia’s flight members, Airman 1st Class Daisy Slater, an emergency management specialist from the 2nd Civil Engineer Squadron, said she is grateful for the opportunity to work with Garcia and learn about the dogs.

“I feel like getting to this flight, I've been given the opportunity to hit the ground running, so to speak,” said Slater. “There are so many NCOs and especially Airmen coming out of this flight that are making waves in the career field. And when you situate yourself next to people doing great things, it opens up a door for you to also do great things.”

Slater said over the past month she has watched the team remote control the dogs in different terrain and environments.

Lessons along the journey

Throughout the development of his robot dog concept Garcia discovered a new passion for empowering Airmen to share their perspectives.

He emphasized the importance of listening to and encouraging different perspectives of his teammates.

“We need to be able to say yes more and listen more,” said Garcia. “We need to be able to allow our Airmen, our sergeants, our lieutenants, whoever, to be able to give those ideas and support them because if you say no you’ll never know the return on investment. But a simple yes can have so many positive effects that we don't even see sometimes.”

There was a time in Garcia’s career that he didn’t know he could come up with a concept and receive the support to make it a reality.

Going through this process opened his eyes to the value in involving Airmen at every level and encouraging them and supporting their ideas. Garcia said that is the reason he wanted to involve his teammates in the testing and evaluation of the robot dogs.

“This is one of the few times that we get to build by the end user, for the end user. Yes, end users test certain pieces of equipment, but very rarely do they get to build it out for an entire career flow for an entire mission,” said Garcia. “That's why I wanted to create an exposure for these guys to show them that it doesn't matter what rank you are…it doesn't matter how much experience you have in the Air Force, we all bring something to the table,” said Garcia.

Garcia said he is inspired by the adaptability and eagerness displayed by the newer generation of Airmen and he hopes he has paved a path for the many Airmen who have innovative ideas.

“The robot dogs are amazing. I love them, and I believe they're going to save lives,” said Garcia. “What we're doing for the career field, I think is awesome because we're the first ones in the whole emergency management career field doing this, but the more important message is, we need to be able to be more open.”