By Dave Smith
21st Space Wing Public Affairs staff writer
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — The sun shone outside, but the mood was somber in the base auditorium as several military working dogs lay at their handler’s feet. Airmen gathered in groups throughout the theater, but spoke with hushed tones in accordance with the reason for the gathering.
Three kennels sat in the center of the stage, deservedly a place of honor. Before each one were personal effects — water bowl, leash, food dish — and a large portrait on top. The display and the continuous slide show detailing information about each one assured Spike, Ggina and Donja were remembered one more time. To the side of the stage their comrade Guyro stood respectfully with his handler, Staff Sgt. Andrew Koch waiting his turn to take the stage.
The retirement and memorial service Dec. 19 at the base auditorium celebrated the retirement of MWD Guyro, a German Shepherd, and honored the memories of MWDs Spike, Ggina and Donja, Belgian Malinois working dogs from the 21st Security Forces Squadron kennel.
Event emcee Senior Airman Samantha Baker said MWDs are often the most unrecognized members of the military, but that was not the case on this day. Among those paying homage were Col. John Shaw, 21st Space Wing commander; Col. Gregory Anderson, Headquarters Air Force Space Command; Col. Reginald Ash, 21st Mission Support Group commander; Lt. Col. Nicole Roberts, 21st Security Force Squadron commander; Chief Master Sgt. Idalia Peele, 21st Space Wing command chief; and Chief Master Sgt. Robert Hudson, 21st Mission Support Group superintendent.
“They are true heroes to all, especially their handlers,” said Roberts. She noted the dogs put in tens of thousands of duty hours and often don’t receive the recognition deserved in the form of medals, though they serve alongside their handlers through the same types of duty.
Working dogs and their handlers share a bond few outside that community would understand, Roberts said. To make the point she shared an emotional story about a time she was deployed. A water truck came along and stopped, a handler and dog courageously approached to examine the vehicle. As they reached the truck it exploded killing the handler instantly and throwing the canine partner many feet away. With its rear legs lost, the faithful canine pawed its way to the handler to lay upon him so they could die together.
“It shows how they feel. I am honored to be part of such amazing relationships,” she said.
The first order of the ceremony was the retirement of MWD Guyro. He came to Peterson Air Force Base in 2008. Guyro was a patrol and explosive detection dog trained to locate explosive substances as well as to detect human presence by scent, sight or sound and alert his handler. Guyro, like other patrol dogs, was trained to protect his handler with or without a voice command. He was deployed in 2010 to 455th Expeditionary Security Force Squadron, Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan and in 2013 to 379th ESFS, Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar.
Guyro will enjoy the retired life relaxing and living a life of leisure, said Koch, who adopted his partner.
The three MWDs whose ends of watch were memorialized had notable service records. Spike was a patrol and explosive detection dog. He deployed five times during his tenure at Peterson AFB: Task Force Guardian, Bagram AF, Afghanistan, 2006; 25th Infantry Division, FOB Warrior, Iraq, 2007; 332 ESFS, Balad AB, Iraq, 2008; and 455 ESFS, Bagram AF, Afghanistan, 2010 and 2012. Spike is credited with one of the biggest finds in Iraq detecting 110 105mm shells and numerous bandoliers of ammunition at one time.
Spike was known to be tough on handlers. When Tech. Sgt. Joshua Osbourn first found he was to pick up Spike, but it wasn’t long before the two developed a close relationship.
“This dog was my family,” Osbourn said, recalling a time when he was deployed and his first daughter was born while he was away. “I had Spike by my side 24-7 to help me out.”
Ggina, also a patrol and explosives dog, came to Peterson AFB in May 2004. Her end of watch was in April. She was deployed six times during her time here: 379th ESFS, Al Udied Air Base, Qatar, 2005; 101st ABN DIV, FOB Warrior and McHenry, Iraq, 2006; 1st Calvary Division, Camp Victory, Iraq, 2007; 1st Calvary Division, Camp Taji, Iraq, 2009; 305th ESFS, Thumrait Air Base, Oman, 2011; and 455th ESFS, Bagram AF, Afghanistan, 2012.
Ggina’s former handler Staff Sgt. Whit Young said he was, at first, not thrilled to get her. He thought Ggina’s age would be a problem handling the desert heat, but she proved him wrong during the deployment and their relationship changed.
“During the holidays Ggina was there when I Skyped my son. It was hard and she put her head in my lap,” Young said. “She was there for me.”
Donja had a successful career as a narcotics dog. She first came to Peterson AFB in December 2005, her end of watch came in October.
“She was definitely the best drug dog during her tenure here,” said Staff Sgt. Dennis Kim. Donja was his first dog and he was her last handler. “She was loving, but when it came down to it she would bite.”
Kim described Donja as a dog who tested her handlers and tried to get away with everything, but also as a strong dog who at 55 pounds was as strong as dogs twice her weight and could take down a 180-pound man.
The relationship between MWD and handler, as well as the mood of the ceremony, is best captured in the final stanza of a poem about military working dogs called “Guardians of the Night,” author unknown:
And when our time together is done
and you move on in the world,
Remember me with kind thoughts and tales.
For a time we were unbeatable,
Nothing passed among us undetected.
If we should meet again on another street
I will gladly take up your fight,
I am a Military Working Dog.