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National K9 Veterans Day: honoring our four-legged warriors

By Staff Sgt. Kaylee Dubois 633d Air Base Wing Public Affairs

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Marching along the perimeter of Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, members of the 633rd Security Forces Squadron, 3rd Military Working Dog Detachment and their military working dogs honored the most selfless service members with an extended eight-mile walk for National K9 Veterans Day, March 13, 2020.

Established as the U.S. Army’s War Dog Program in 1942, K-9 warriors have remained a critical asset providing multi-faceted capabilities to mission success within the armed forces.

According to U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Carmen Pontello, 633rd SFS MWD handler, celebrating National K9 Veterans Day with his K-9 counterpart just makes sense.

“We have retirements for them, have medals for them and they serve along with us for most of their lives,” Pontello said. “It’s important that we honor them and give them the attention they deserve. Just like we have our Veterans Day, they deserve one, too.”

This year’s celebration means a little bit more to Pontello. Last April, his MWD, Max, retired and shortly after passed away in November 2019. He added he will be carrying Max’s ashes with him throughout the event.

“Max and I spent a lot of time together, deployed together and when I brought him home, he became an instant best friend to my daughter,” Pontello said. “On this day, we get to recognize him and all our other fallen MWDs.”

Along with Max, the memorial will honor Bodza, a recently retired MWD, who also crossed the “rainbow bridge.” Pontello noted the day would also be a way to highlight MWDs, such as MMarc and RRoddie, and their handlers who are still enjoying retirement together.

For dogs like MMarc and RRoddie, their names tell it all. MWDs with double-lettered names have been bred and trained out of Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, signifying their longstanding connection to their trade.

To celebrate the day, the 633rd SFS invited the U.S. Army to partake in the ruck march and memorial at the kennels afterwards.

“I’m definitely honored to be with these working dogs today,” U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Paul Bourgeois, 3rd MWD Detachment military working dog handler. “As a young handler, you hear stories about the deployments they were on before I was even in the military, so it’s humbling that these guys do so much and we only sometimes hear about it. A whole day is need to honor these animals who risk their lives every day to keep service members out of harm’s way.”

Bourgeois, who is RRoddie’s owner, feels thankful to be celebrating their first National K-9 Veterans Day together after RRoddie’s retirement in October 2019.

“The day is for him,” Bourgeois said. “I’m happy to have him finally to celebrate the day together.”

Although a ruck march may not appear to be a usual way to commemorate the day, keeping conditioned and mission capable is ultimately the K-9s’ and handlers’ first priority.

For the oldest dog in the kennel at 10-years-old, Oopey, the special occasion gives her a chance to start celebrating retirement early with her former handler, U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Richard Bobadilla.

“Woof woof woof,” Oopey said, which easily translates to, “where’s my cake?”


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