National K9 Veterans Day: honoring our four-legged warriors

U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Paul Bourgeois, 3rd MWD Detachment military working dog handler, and his dog Olaf, 633rd SFS MWD, participate in a ruck march in honor of National K9 Veterans Day at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, March 13, 2020. Armed Forces K-9 warriors have remained a critical asset providing multi-faceted capabilities to mission success within the armed forces. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Kaylee Dubois)
U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Paul Bourgeois, 3rd MWD Detachment military working dog handler, and his dog Olaf, 633rd SFS MWD, participate in a ruck march in honor of National K9 Veterans Day at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, March 13, 2020. Armed Forces K-9 warriors have remained a critical asset providing multi-faceted capabilities to mission success within the armed forces. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Kaylee Dubois)

National K9 Veterans Day: honoring our four-legged warriors
Joint Base Langley-Eustis
Story by Staff Sgt. Kaylee Dubois
Friday, March 13, 2020

Marching along the perimeter of Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, members of the U.S. Air Force 633rd Security Forces Squadron, U.S. Army 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?”

Members of the U.S. Air Force 633rd Security Forces Squadron military working dog detachment and U.S. Army 3rd MWD Detachment pose for a photo after a ruck march in honor of National K9 Veterans Day at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, March 13, 2020. The handlers ruck marched eight miles to celebrate the MWDs who have served alongside them, for those who lost their life to protect service members and those in retirement. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Kaylee Dubois)
Members of the U.S. Air Force 633rd Security Forces Squadron military working dog detachment and U.S. Army 3rd MWD Detachment pose for a photo after a ruck march in honor of National K9 Veterans Day at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, March 13, 2020. The handlers ruck marched eight miles to celebrate the MWDs who have served alongside them, for those who lost their life to protect service members and those in retirement. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Kaylee Dubois)

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Carmen Pontello, 633rd Security Forces Squadron dog handler, and his dog Max, 633rd SFS military working dog, poses for a photo after participating in a ruck march in honor of National K9 Veterans Day at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, March 13, 2020. For Pontello, this year’s celebration means a lot more to him after his MWD, Max, passed away in November 2019 shortly after his retirement. He said he will be carrying Max’s ashes with him throughout the event. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Kaylee Dubois)

RRoddie, a retired military working dog, plays with a toy on National K9 Veterans Day at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, March 13, 2020. RRoddie retired from the U.S. Army’s military working dog program in October 2019. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Kaylee Dubois)

U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Paul Bourgeois, 3rd MWD Detachment military working dog handler, and his retired dog RRoddie, pose for a photo after participating in a ruck march in honor of National K9 Veterans Day at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, March 13, 2020. 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. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Kaylee Dubois)

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Frances Gunderson, 633rd Security Forces Squadron military working dog handler, and her dog Oopey, 633rd SFS MWD, pose for a photo after a ruck march in honor of National K9 Veterans Day at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, March 13, 2020. At 10-years-old, Oopey is using the special occasion to start celebrating her retirement early. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Kaylee Dubois)

U.S. Army Spc. Levi Graham, 3rd MWD Detachment, carries his dog, Jack, 3rd MWD Detachment MWD, during a ruck march in honor of National K9 Veterans Day at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, March 13, 2020. On March 13, 1942, the U.S. Army started training for its new War Dog Program, which marked the first time dogs were officially members of the U.S. Armed Forces. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Kaylee Dubois)

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Dylan Cantrell, 633rd Security Forces Squadron military working dog handler, carries his dog Largo, 633rd SFS MWD, during a ruck march in honor of National K9 Veterans Day at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, March 13, 2020. Activities like a ruck march help keep the handler and MWD conditioned and mission capable to ensure the safety of service members and civilians.

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Dylan Cantrell, 633rd Security Forces Squadron dog handler, and and U.S. Army Spc. Levi Graham, 3rd MWD Detachment, carry their dogs, Largo, 633rd SFS MWD, and Jack, 3rd MWD Detachment MWD, respectively, during a ruck march in honor of National K9 Veterans Day at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, March 13, 2020. MWDs are trained to assist Airmen in performing a variety of duties, including subduing an aggressive subject, detecting narcotics and detecting explosive materials. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Kaylee Dubois)

Members of the U.S. Air Force 633rd Security Forces Squadron military working dog detachment and U.S. Army 3rd MWD Detachment participate participate in a ruck march in honor of National K9 Veterans Day at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, March 13, 2020. On March 13, military working dogs are celebrated for National K9 Veterans Day, which was the day the U.S. Army established the War Dog Program, or K-9 Corps in 1942. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Kaylee Dubois)

Members of the U.S. Air Force 633rd Security Forces Squadron military working dog detachment and U.S. Army 3rd MWD Detachment participate in a ruck march in honor of National K9 Veterans Day at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, March 13, 2020. Armed Forces K-9 warriors have remained a critical asset providing multi-faceted capabilities to mission success within the armed forces.

U.S. Air Force Senior Airmen Alexander O’Brien, 633rd Security Forces Squadron military working dog handler, and his dog Risa, 633rd SFS MWD, participate in a ruck march in honor of National K9 Veterans Day at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, March 13, 2020. On March 13, military working dogs are celebrated for National K9 Veterans Day, which was the day the U.S. Army established the War Dog Program, or K-9 Corps in 1942. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Kaylee Dubois)

Members of the U.S. Air Force 633rd Security Forces Squadron military working dog detachment and U.S. Army 3rd MWD Detachment participate participate in a ruck march in honor of National K9 Veterans Day at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, March 13, 2020. Activities like a ruck march help keep the handler and MWD conditioned and mission capable to ensure the safety of service members and civilians. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Kaylee Dubois)

Members of the U.S. Air Force 633rd Security Forces Squadron military working dog detachment and U.S. Army 3rd MWD Detachment participate in a ruck march in honor of National K9 Veterans Day at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, March 13, 2020. After the eight-mile ruck march, the defenders did 13 push-ups in reference to the day and an extra push-up for each MWD their teams have lost. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Kaylee Dubois)

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Frances Gunderson, 633rd Security Forces Squadron military working dog handler, and her dog Oopey, 633rd SFS MWD, rest during a ruck march in honor of National K9 Veterans Day at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, March 13, 2020. At 10-years-old, Oopey is using the special occasion to start celebrating her retirement early. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Kaylee Dubois)

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Dylan Cantrell, 633rd Security Forces Squadron dog handler, and his dog Largo, 633rd SFS MWD, participate in a ruck march in honor of National K9 Veterans Day at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, March 13, 2020. MWDs are trained to assist Airmen in performing a variety of duties, including subduing an aggressive subject, detecting narcotics and detecting explosive materials. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Kaylee Dubois)

U.S. Army Spc. Kyle Pereira, 3rd Military Working Dog Detachment MWD handler, gives his MWD Maya affection during a ruck march in honor of National K9 Veterans Day at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, March 13, 2020. MWDs are trained to assist Airmen in performing a variety of duties, including subduing an aggressive subject, detecting narcotics and detecting explosive materials. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Kaylee Dubois)

U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Paul Bourgeois, 3rd MWD Detachment military working dog handler, and his dog Olaf, 633rd SFS MWD, participate in a ruck march in honor of National K9 Veterans Day at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, March 13, 2020. Armed Forces K-9 warriors have remained a critical asset providing multi-faceted capabilities to mission success within the armed forces. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Kaylee Dubois)

U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Paul Bourgeois, 3rd MWD Detachment military working dog handler, and his dog Olaf, 633rd SFS MWD, participate in a ruck march in honor of National K9 Veterans Day at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, March 13, 2020. On March 13, 1942, the U.S. Army started training for its new War Dog Program, which marked the first time dogs were officially members of the U.S. Armed Forces. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Kaylee Dubois)

U.S. Air Force 633rd Security Forces Squadron military working dog, Largo, poses for a photo during a ruck march in honor of National K9 Veterans Day at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, March 13, 2020. On March 13, 1942, the U.S. Army started training for its new War Dog Program, which marked the first time dogs were officially members of the U.S. Armed Forces. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Kaylee Dubois)

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