Cpl. Ian Denisiu is a long way from home. Even his journey to get to the Marine Corps was longer than most.
It is paying off for him though, and those in the community are noticing his leadership potential.
Denisiu, from La Cañada Flintridge, Calif., is a canine handler for the Marine Corps Police Department at Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany. He was meritoriously promoted to his current rank in March.
Denisiu went after a college education following his graduation from Crescenta Valley High School. He was a developer at a marketing firm for three years, working with a team of three people beneath him. Much of his team’s work went to promoting animal charities.
He went from there to the Los Angeles County Sheriff and Los Angeles Police Department. Then circumstances took a turn.
“COVID hit while I was at the academy, and our class was put on hold,” Denisiu said. “We were in a standstill for six months, during which the police protests were going on.”
In the meantime, he had friends in the Marine Corps who were getting out as sergeants. He spoke to them about their experiences and explored an alternative.
“I was making great money at the marketing firm, but I was past that,” Denisiu said. “I asked my friends about the military. I looked at being a firefighter in the Army, but ultimately decided on military police in the Marine Corps, with K-9 as my ambition.”
He did eventually become a canine handler, serving in this capacity now for two years. He is glad to be serving where he is.
“I was afraid of the Marine Corps at first because of my lack of knowledge,” the corporal said. “I feel, out of the military branches I could have chosen, this one has given me the most pride. The level of integrity, commitment, and work ethic doesn’t compare.”
The experience has so far has exceeded Denisiu’s expectations. He was not even aware of the existence of a Marine Corps base in Albany, so he came into his current role not knowing what to expect.
But he’s aimed to make the most of it.
“Throughout my whole life I have focused on developing a positive mindset,” he said. “In Albany, upon arriving, I adopted that mindset; I look at Albany as a blessing.”
Lt. Tonette Allen, MCPD kennel master at MCLB Albany, said Denisiu came to Albany unexpectedly after his orders were changed at the last minute, and that the Cpl. Dustin Jerome Lee Kennel has benefited significantly from this change.
“He has shown tremendous natural ability with handling and training dogs,” she said. “He stands out with his drive and determination. His goals are geared towards perfecting his craft.”
An example of this is a recent five-week training stint Denisiu did at Lackland Air Force Base, a component of Joint Base San Antonio, focused on directional control. He is one of 12 Marines to have this certification.
“He has the mindset of being goal oriented,” Allen said. “He faced obstacles and found the best way to achieve his goals without letting anything get in the way. Since he has been part of the military working dog team, he has shown to be a team player, leader and public speaker.”
This ability to speak to any age group has made him a valuable asset during community relations events, reaching a range from preschool to assisted living populations, and when visitors from high-level leadership within the Marine Corps are in Albany touring the kennel.
He has a high level of confidence for someone who has been a Marine for only two years.
“To have natural ability in all of those disciplines at his age is quite uncommon,” Allen said. “Most people in his peer group do not possess the same characteristics. He is steadfast in that mindset. He has been very clear about what he wants from day one and has shown great work ethic to achieve that. As his kennel master, it is my job to facilitate his goals to the best of my ability.”
Denisiu has a strong passion for dog training, and plans to continue this work in a civilian capacity once he transitions out of the Corps. Working this passion at MCLB Albany, he said, has given him chances to expand his horizons elsewhere.
“I was working with a dog on the second day,” the corporal said. “At other bases, my friends were not as lucky. I have been afforded more opportunity here. The size and operational tempo of the base is unique, and there is a community on the base in which everyone knows everybody. I enjoy that.”
“On a bigger base, you typically don’t get the close community.”
Building a close bond with a military working dog is essential to becoming a highly effective team. It is a partnership in which both learn a great deal on how to trust and rely on each other.
“I get the most gratification out of teaching a dog a new capability and being able to see the MWD’s growth and accomplishment,” Denisiu said. “This is not a pet dog, and they don’t operate like your normal dog; you have to earn your place in the pack. They are more attuned to the instincts of a wolf.”
“It is enjoyable to go out and work with MWDs daily. Being able to build a line of communication with an animal who doesn’t speak our language, and what you do through that communication, is very challenging. I love the challenge of it.”
He has developed an effective relationship with his dog, a Belgian Malinois named Yyannik. The corporal is particularly proud of this, as well as getting his recent meritorious promotion.
Denisiu has, while in his role as a Marine Corps dog handler, acquired discipline and motivation from within. He has been given opportunities by his kennel master that he might not have otherwise had, such as participating in law enforcement memorial events in the southwest Georgia area and Washington, D.C.
It is very much like a family to him.
“I never went to a four-year university or joined a fraternity, but it is like that,” he said. “I am a part of something special. K-9 is a brotherhood/sisterhood; it is a specialty skill and an exclusive section.”
The corporal is engaged to a law student in Chicago. Whatever the future holds for him, whether it be still working with canines, she will be by his side. This will involve a move to another part of the country, where he can most effectively use the unique training and skills he has acquired.
“She is my biggest supporter, and my biggest fan,” Denisiu said. “I work hard to be a better Marine and a better man for her.”
Allen said her role while Denisiu is in Albany is to provide what he feels he needs to perfect his craft and develop as a well rounded leader.
“I want to get him in front of more people and get him more exposed,” she said. “He is a great representation for the Marine Corps, MCLB Albany and the MWD program. His skill set and achievements in a short period make him a highly valuable asset to the Cpl. Dustin Jerome Lee Kennel.”
Denisiu’s words of wisdom to the potential Marine recruit, is to go for it.
“Looking back, I was devastated when LAPD fell through,” he said. “I worked hard for it, but the friends I have there are struggling with leadership and have lost their passion for law enforcement. Now I am here, away from family and friends. The character it’s built and the experience gained has been worth it. I have had the opportunity to travel, work high dignitary protection details and showcase the MWD program. I will be able to tell my kids these stories one day. Getting to experience my career path in the Marine Corps at a different level, it is something you can’t buy and one very few people get.”
“If you are on the fence or thinking about joining the Marine Corps, my advice would be to take a leap of faith and give it a shot. It’s the best decision I have ever made.”