Paws and Patriotism: Honoring Furry Heroes in Retirement

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Moises Vasquez
  • 673d Air Base Wing Public Affairs

Two military working dogs, Beni and Greg, celebrated their well-earned retirements Aug. 25, 2023, at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska.

These heroic canines have not only been pivotal for mission success, but have led the pack during their service. Greg was selected for military working dog training school in 2014, and Beni was selected in 2016 at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. After initial training – which can take between 13 and 27 weeks – the dogs were certified in patrol and explosive detection, and were assigned to JBER. Here, they continued training and executed their assigned duties for the remainder of their careers.

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Zachary Villarreal, a MWD trainer assigned to the 673d Security Forces Squadron, said out of the approximate 2,500 dogs tested for military service each year, only 750 are selected to attend the strenuous MWD course. Of those, about 500 dogs graduate.

Greg and Beni’s duties involved a broad spectrum of key responsibilities, such as base-wide foot patrols, explosive detection, theft deterrence, funds escorts, demonstrations, bomb threat responses, U.S. Secret Service distinguished visitor support, and training their assigned handlers.

“Greg has been assigned to five handlers during his career and Beni was assigned to six,” said Villarreal during the retirement ceremony. “They both dedicated their lives to protecting their handlers, JBER personnel, and this installation; for that, we will always be eternally grateful. It has been an honor to serve alongside both these military working dogs.”

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Michael Kennedy, 673d SFS commander, emphasized the profound bond between military working dogs and their human counterparts.

"If you've ever deployed with military working dogs, you will know they're our best asset,” said Kennedy. “I've seen handlers go down, and I've seen [the dogs] protect them. Why this matters is because they know no different. We have a choice to serve, but they're born into this organization. For those who don't know, the Air Force is the lead service for the military working dog program, and we keep only the best."

Kennedy said when he was a lieutenant, he was in charge of the logistics of his assigned MWD organization, to include the canines, as they were also designated as equipment. It costs about $250 thousand per dog to put them through the training program.

“It wasn't until I was deployed that I realized they're truly our partners, they are defenders, and they deserve all the honors that come with a retirement ceremony," Kennedy said. 

In November 2000, President Clinton signed “Robby’s Law” enabling MWDs suitable for adoption to be available to retire after their service. Greg and Beni have now been adopted and will get a chance to enjoy retirement.

As the sun set over JBER, the retirement ceremony for Beni and Greg served as a heartfelt tribute to their unwavering dedication and service to the nation. These canine heroes may have hung up their collars, but their legacy of loyalty and valor will forever echo in the hearts of those they protected.