"Our current method involves carrying around a bunch of extremely heavy equipment. Callie weighs 50 pounds, and she gets herself around. She beats any type of equipment or machine with just her capabilities, her nose and her intelligence. She's just really good at her job."
According to Chief Master Sgt. Karl Grugel, the squadron's chief enlisted manager, dogs are a "secondary requirement" for search and rescue on the civilian side.
"Pararescue is the only DoD asset dedicated to search and rescue, which is why Callie is such a mission-enhancing asset," Grugel said. "Search-and-rescue dogs have already been proven time and time again on the civilian side. They have such an immense capability. When they do side-by-side testing, there's nothing that even comes close to a canine."
According to Parsons, the dog's "stability and need to bond with her handler" makes the Guard uniquely suited to pioneer this initiative.
"It makes sense that the Guard would establish this because it's such an intensive program," Parsons said. "If you were to do this in an active-duty squadron, you'd have personnel switching over all of the time. Her working life is anywhere from four to six years, so you could have multiple people go through and try to be her handler. In the Guard, we have people who are here for that whole time or longer."
The experience level of Guard Airmen also helps make it more suited for innovations like this.
"The Guard and Reserve own 70% of the seven levels of Total Force special tactics," Grugel said. "The Guard is more likely to lean forward on new innovations just because of the experience levels of its members."
Looking to the future, Parsons hopes the SAR K-9 program will develop into a full-fledged military working dog program that can regularly deploy with special tactics personnel recovery teams and global access teams.
"We're continuing just to develop her just so she can interact and function in every capability that the US military could be in and there could be a need to save life," Parsons said. Beyond increasing the capabilities of the unit, Callie is an important teammate for members of the 123rd STS.
"When she got here, one of the biggest things I wanted was for her to be a teammate," Parsons said. "She definitely does that. A lot of the guys think of her as family. Everybody looks forward to seeing her, and she looks forward to seeing everybody else."
"We have a very strong connection," Parsons continued. "We spend 24/7 together and we're always training together. I have to be consistent with her because she is a very beautiful dog, and I have to remember that she's not a pet; she's definitely a working dog."
The 123rd SAR K-9 program was funded by the Air National Guard innovation program, meant to enable Airmen to make positive, meaningful change and drive a culture shift toward innovation.