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Home : News : Article Display
NEWS | April 24, 2019

A paw-rtner retires: thank you for your service

By Senior Airman Anthony Nin Leclerec 633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

“My eyes have seen many things in the darkness of the night, some of which you never saw as you held my leash so tight. I protected you and as a team we feared none.

My ears have heard the sound of many things that made you freeze at night, you trusted me and used my pointed ears as battle sights. I protected you and as a team we feared none.

Over the years, many have held my leash, several who held it loose and a few who held it tight. No matter how you choose to keep me, I protected you and as a team we feared none.

I’ve heard the highest praise and the heaviest correction. Regardless of the tone of your voice or the weight of your correction, I protected you and as a team we feared none.

When evil crossed our path I never backed down, I will fight to the end, my loyalty to you is unconditional. I protected you and as a team we feared none.

Many years have passed and my muzzle is now full of gray. When it’s time to face my final battle let me keep my pride. Know that I loved no other place than by your side. When it’s all said and done remember the battles that we’ve won. Never forget that I protected you and as a team we feared none.”

As U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Carmen Pontello, 633rd Security Forces Squadron military working dog handler, read the poem, he fought to keep his emotions in check.

Military Working Dog Max, 633rd SFS explosives detector, retired from active duty at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, April 23, 2019.

“Max is truly a special dog,” Pontello said. “I remember when I first met Max; to be honest, I was a little intimidated. He’d always present himself like he was in charge and wouldn’t let anyone back him down. ”

Max provided unwavering dedication and distinguished service to the U.S. Air Force for 12 years, risking his life to save others without thinking about the potential outcome of an ultimate sacrifice. He could be inches away from harm and show no fear.

Max, a Belgian Malanois, started his career at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas in 2009. Upon graduating from the Department of Defense dog training school, he was assigned to the 633rd SFS at Langley Air Force Base.

He has been a valued team member to 11 dog handlers as an explosives detector and patrol dog. He worked at JBLE defending the installation, its people and resources.

“Max, in my biased opinion, is the perfect working dog,” said Staff Sgt. Adrien Dupius, 633rd SFS. “My time holding his leash and letting him do what he did best was the best time I had in my Air Force career.”

During his tenure, Max deployed to Kahtar, Iraq, Afghanistan twice, Kuwait twice and to the United Arab Emirates. He also traveled to numerous places in the U.S. in support of the Office of the President of the United States, fortifying the protection of the commander in chief.

Max conducted over 3,000 random anti-terrorism measures, searched 13,428 items and provided 3,200 hours of counter-explosive and patrol support in war fighting missions, protecting billions in DoD assets and 50,000 military and civilian personnel. His keen ability to detect buried threats helped save countless lives.

“Max is a sweetheart,” said U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Carmen Pontello, 633rd Security Forces Squadron military working dog handler. “Obviously I can say that now, but when I first met Max, he gave that vibe like ‘hey man, if you mess with me, we’re gonna go at it.’ So I was always kind of sketched out about Max at first.”

Before Pontello had the chance to be assigned to Max, they had already been selected to deploy as partners. News that was met by an anxious ‘Oh boy, here we go,’ from Pontello.

The first time Pontello took Max on a walk and gave him the command to heel, Max stood about three feet away and just barked at him.

According to Pontello, soon after they just clicked. He remembers being told ‘hey man, you got a Cadillac, you just have to figure out how to drive.’

“That spoke a lot to me,” said Pontello. “For him to say this dog is one of the best dogs we have, he’s built the way he should be built, he runs the way he should run. So as long as you can figure out how to drive that Cadillac, you guys will be unstoppable.”

That became more and more evident to Pontello as they grew as a team and learned to trust each other.

Pontello remembers the time they deployed together; his daughter was only six months old. Whenever he missed his family, he knew he could walk to Max’s kennel and not only find a partner, but a brother.

For Pontello, noticing Max’s constant joy and eagerness to see him was a recurring reminder that he wasn’t alone; he always had Max.

But now at 12 years of age, the gray hairs have grown around Max’s muzzle.

“It's hard to say he should retire because he is ‘that’ good, he is a military asset,” Pontello said. “He doesn't miss, he still wants to apprehend, he still wants to bite and he still wants to find odors.”

After a long 12 hour shift, Pontello noticed Max starting to slow down. What used to be eating and some play time had become eating and bed time. Still, Max waits anxiously for his mission collar every time he sees his handler put the vest on.

“Obviously he loves what he does, but at some time you gotta say ‘hey man, enough is enough,’” Pontello said. “Yeah, I love what I do, but I'm not doing this for the next 50 years. You know what I mean! So I just want to take Max home and have him enjoy the last couple of years or whatever it may be, relaxing on the couch and having fun.”

Now adopted into the Pontello family, Max’s watch is over, but those he protected will never forget his dedication and the sacrifices he made.