Military working dogs retire

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Ashley Skillman
  • 48th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Protecting the president and saving lives with un-human like abilities sounds like the work of a superhero to many, but it was all in a days work for Dan, Berry, and Beauty, three former RAF Lakenheath military working dogs that retired at RAF Feltwell Jan. 13.

For a total of eight to nine years each, these canines used their rigorously conditioned natural abilities for specific specialties, such as drug and explosives detection, to carry out missions essential to our national security.

According to the many words of gratitude and respect shared amongst the crowd, MWDs are fellow service members and arguably one of the best military assets to have in a time of conflict. They have proven to their country, fellow Airmen and soldiers time and time again that they're more than a typical pet.

"I just came back from the desert after being there for a year, and those dogs, no kidding, served as the very edge of the spear," said Lt. Col. Michael D. Ross, 48th Security Forces Squadron commander.

While deployed, Colonel Ross explained that MWD's were continuously at the front of the fight conducting forward operating base security checks, carrying out combat patrols and assisting troops in the detection of terrorists and hostages hidden in unusual areas ranging from walls to vehicles.

"They were the difference between dead Airmen and soldiers, and alive Airmen and soldiers," he said. "They definitely helped capture terrorists."

Dan, Berry and Beauty's services throughout their career have been essential to the mission, but their success must be shared with MWD handlers Tech. Sgt. Samuel Beckett, Staff Sgts. Carl Sole and Kristyne Feldman, and all of their previous service member counterparts who spent every day training and taking care of them to ensure each canine was mission ready.

Staff Sgt. Nicolas Gonzales, 48th SFS MWD handler, has been working with MWDs for three years now and describes the job as very rewarding.

"You're given a companion and partner who you train with everyday," he said. "You bathe them, feed them, medicate them and work with them."

A handler and MWD eventually develop a bond or personal connection with each other that allows them to operate more efficiently, said Sergeant Gonzales.

"When we're working, we're one, simply working as one," he said.

Staff Sgt. Michael Marks, 48th SFS MWD handler, explained that the selected breeds for MWDs have beneficial qualities that contribute to the level of dedication often displayed by the canines for their handlers.

"In my personal experiences as being a handler, the German Shepherds as a whole are probably a good base line in terms of all-around loyalty and protection for the handler. Just as if they were a pet, they want to protect their master. It's like that ol' adage of a dog willing to take a bullet for ya," said Sergeant Marks.

This type of dedication must have been evident in Dan, Berry and Beauty's career because everyone in attendance at the event couldn't thank them enough for their service.

"I certainly do appreciate everything they did, and I thank all of you for coming out and helping set them on their way," said Colonel Ross. "They've done a phenomenal job and we appreciate it."

With such a high level of respect shown for each canine, it's no surprise that the retirement, which was coordinated by Tech. Sgt. Richard Duvall, 48th SFS MWD handler, and hosted at RAF Feltwell, included the whole nine-yards and nothing but the best for these fellow canine service members.

During the ceremony, the national anthems sounded and the audience received 'attention to orders.' As Dan, Berry and Beauty entered the room individually, a respectable career review was conveyed in honor of their service. Recognitions concluded with the presentation of a certificate of appreciation given by Colonel Ross to each canine and respective military working dog handler.

Berry also shared a few energetic barks during his retirement, which Colonel Ross explained as something to be expected since he was the type who would go out kicking and screaming.

More than 40 service members and guests attended the event to show their appreciation for Dan, Berry and Beauty, including distinguished guests such as Col. Gus Green, U.S. Air Forces in Europe Chief of Security Forces; Chief Master Sgt. John Western, USAFE Security Forces manager; Col. Cassie Barlow, Commander of the 48th Mission Support Group, and many others.

As a whole, many guests were pleased to know that life after retirement of approximately 56 dog years of service consists of adoption for the majority of MWDs.

The adoption process, handled by the Department of Defense Military Working Dog School at Lackland Air Force Base, ensures that MWDs are matched with a suitable loving family capable of fulfilling all of a canine's needs for their retirement or 'couch potato' days.

When asked to share his thoughts on the adoption of MWDs at RAF Lakenheath, Sergeant Gonzales smiled and said, "I'm so, so happy! I wish I could give each one their first steak, but I'm sure they're new families have that lined up. It's nice to know they go to great homes, where they can lay on the couch and just relax."

Staff Sgt. Mathew Hernandez, 48th SFS MWD handler, will adopt Berry and is looking forward to having a new member of his family. In fact, he has already prepared for Berry's arrival, and has particularly geared up for his strong appetite.

"He likes a lot of food, so I've had to baby-proof most of my house," said Sergeant Hernandez with a smile.

In light of everything that Dan, Berry and Beauty have done for our country, many might describe them as heroes, but perhaps 'superheroes' is more appropriate.

After all, superheroes are often described as costumed characters that use extraordinary powers to protect the innocent and combat arch enemies of the public. One could also argue the same about MWDs that have furry coats, use un-human senses to protect our nation, and assist in opposing our daily nemesis, terrorists.