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Man’s best friend: K-9 Defenders retire after years of service

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Grace Nichols
  • 19th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

Amid a sea of deep blue berets, two Defenders step onto a stage to be recognized in front of peers they have served alongside for many years.

The two K-9 Defenders are Britt and Willam, military working dogs assigned to the 19th Security Forces Squadron at Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas. A third, Jeck, could not attend.

During their tenure, they have supported operations while home and abroad. While this retirement marks an end to their years of service, it also marks the beginning of two new dogs’ careers: Frigo and Mirco.

“Military working dogs, Britt, Jeck and Willam have served long and honorably,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Donald Bartholomew, 19th SFS commander. “They have spent the entirety of their careers in a time of war where threats abound both home and abroad. They have undoubtedly given their best and able-bodied years to serve our great nation.”

MWDs have been part of the Air Force since its conception, and their history spans back as long as the military itself.

The changing of collars signaled the close of the ceremony, symbolizing the end of distinguished careers in service to their country while at their home stations and deployed locations and for sacrifices in the line of duty.

Although they don’t hold rank, MWDs serve similarly to Airmen assigned here – with each having a specific job that is imperative to protecting the installation.

Their journey begins at Joint-Base San Antonio Lackland, Texas, like all enlisted Airmen, where they undergo weeks of training to prepare for active-duty service. Upon completion, they are given their orders to the duty location from which they will spend the majority of their careers.

“Just like how an Airman has on the job training, military working dogs are required to qualify on tasks before going out on the field,” said U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Brooks Jones, 19th SFS kennel master. “When they get to their installation we consider them just like an Airman straight out of technical training school. Once they get here, they go to their handler and have 90 days to be validated.”

Some of the qualifications they must achieve are detection problems such as explosives and narcotics, patrol tasks, scouting, searching, obedience and gun fighter trainer.

After training is completed, dogs work shifts just like Airmen, can deploy alongside their handlers, and qualify for many different jobs under the security forces umbrella.

“They’re held in the same regard as service members,” Jones said. “They’re not considered a piece of equipment … they’re a member of your team.”

Dogs can serve as long as their health permits, which varies with each dog. If the dog doesn’t have health issues but it begins to decline in performance, it will be removed from duty in order to protect the life of the animal.

Upon determination that a MWD is no longer fit to serve, he will begin a journey back to where it all started: Joint-Base San Antonio Lackland. Here, the MWD will receive an evaluation that will determine its health. Care is taken to ensure the animal receives the best home and treatment needed to lead healthy, safe and happy life after retirement.

Once the evaluation is complete, current and previous dog handlers are given the opportunity to adopt the dog first. If no one is available, the adoption is opened to military employees and then the general public.

“To me, seeing these dogs succeed is like a supervisor seeing his Airmen do well,” Jones said. “I definitely feel proud that I get to be part of training for the new dogs and the retiring of the old. They’ve done a lot for us. They deserve to be able to be honored in a way that reflects their faithful service.”