The accidental RAF dog handler

Corporal James Burnell wouldn’t have described dogs as man’s best friend before he joined the RAF Reserves. Anyone suggesting that one day he’d be working closely with them he’d have said was barking up the wrong tree.

But that’s exactly what happened, when he made a mistake filling in the paperwork when he volunteered to deploy to the Falklands.

Thanks to putting down the wrong code on his application form, to his initial surprise he found himself travelling south as a police dog handler. The experience changed his attitude and it changed his life.

“Before that I had never owned a dog and didn’t particularly like them. However, in the Falklands, I was patrolling with the dog at night in the pitch black knowing he’s got my back. The feeling is indescribable.” he said.

Cpl Burnell’s role involved patrolling and guarding critical RAF assets. In fact, he took to his deployment in the Falklands so well that he won three awards for dog handling.

James loves his time in the reserves and feels the experiences are superb.

He said, “I’ve done things that no one would normally get the opportunity to do. Flying in Chinooks, abseiling with the dog harnessed to me. Everything I do on patrol I do with the dog. They become your best friend.”

James always had a passion for the military but as time went by he began to think it might never happen. In the end, his interest in Force Protection and the Military Police got the better of him and he joined the reserves in 2012 as part of 614 Squadron (Country of Glamorgan) in Wales.

In his civilian life, he works as a Telecoms engineer and initially regarded being a reservist as a hobby. However, he enjoys his military role as a dog handler so much that he is aiming to join full time as a Provost (police) Officer.

James has applied for another deployment to the United Arab Emirates in 2019. This time he has double-checked the forms to ensure they are correct.

Find out if you could enjoy life as an RAF Reservist at