Military Working Dogs Retire After Dedicated Service

Standing on a stage here in front of their wingmen, two 20th Security Forces Squadron airmen received recognition for their dedicated service to the Air Force after serving nearly 90 percent of their lives, or 154 years — dog years, that is.

The March 14 retirement ceremony honored Astra and Marky, patrol explosive detector military working dogs, and marked the day they transitioned from service members to pets.

‘Something Special’

“I’ve seen too many memorials for K-9s, so I wanted something special that everybody can actually see and enjoy,” said Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Anthony Wolfe, operations superintendent for the 20th Security Forces Squadron. “I’ve talked to handlers that have never seen a retirement for [a military working dog], so we tried it and this time we said, ‘Let’s go ahead and try two dogs this time.’”

As military working dogs, Astra and Marky worked with their handlers to provide safety and security by sweeping nearly 110,000 vehicles and facilities at Shaw as well as overseas during their combined 11 deployments.

Countless hours of training alongside 20th SFS airmen helped hone their skills, while strengthening bonds with their teammates as they memorized maneuvers and tactics.

Air Force Tech. Sgt. Gary Magnelli, kennel master for the 20th Security Forces Squadron, reflected on this relationship as he watched them take their final ride before retirement.

“To see their final ride in person kind of choked me up a little bit,” he said. “I’ve known these dogs for quite a while, but to actually send them off that way was good.”

Human-Canine Connection

The bond between the dogs and their human handlers continued to grow with each deployment Astra and Marky completed, supporting missions such as Operations Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom, Inherent Resolve and Freedom’s Sentinel.

Military working dogs and their handlers are always busy doing what is needed, including supporting the president and the vice president, Magnelli said.

Their experiences were apparent throughout the ceremony by the ribbons displayed on their vests.

One ribbon, worn by Marky, stood out from the others, representing the hardships he and his handler faced during one deployment.

While conducting combat operations at an undisclosed location, Marky and his handler were injured by an explosion, said Air Force Staff Sgt. Eric Sweat, a military working dog handler with the 20th Security Forces Squadron.

Marky and his handler were each awarded a Purple Heart for their injuries, including Marky’s difficulty hearing and seeing after suffering a traumatic brain injury.

“His dedication was unmatched as he later recovered and amassed 146 outside-the-wire missions and eliminated multiple explosive and weapon caches,” Sweat said.

With these types of difficulties behind them, Astra and Marky performed their final bite as military working dogs before being presented with bones and their retirement certificates.

“The part I liked the most was being able to take Astra home — being able to step up here and receive the leash from the commander and hearing the narrator say, ‘Military working dog Astra, now pet, retired,’” said Air Force Staff Sgt. David Mussio, Astra’s new owner and a military working dog trainer with the 20th Security Forces Squadron.

“No longer will she be known as military working dog,” he said. “She is retired. She gets the chance to really be a pet, [no longer hearing] the word ‘No,’ she gets to lay on the bed; she gets to lay on the couch. She gets to eat what she wants. She really gets to enjoy life now.”