A military working dog kennel is on display during a memorial service at the base chapel at Hurlburt Field, Fla., March 8, 2011. MWD Beto, a narcotics detection dog assigned to the 1st Special Operations Security Forces Squadron, died of natural causes while serving in Operation Enduring Freedom. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Stephanie Jacobs / RELEASED)
A wreath for a military working dog is on display during a memorial service at the base chapel at Hurlburt Field, Fla., March 8, 2011. MWD Beto, a narcotics detection dog assigned to the 1st Special Operations Security Forces Squadron, died of natural causes while serving in Operation Enduring Freedom. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Stephanie Jacobs / RELEASED)
by Senior Airman Joe McFadden
1st Special Operations Wing Public Affairs
3/17/2011 - HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. -- Dozens of Air Commandos, local community law enforcement and police canines gathered at the Hurlburt Field Chapel March 8 to honor the service and sacrifice of a fallen military working dog.
Beto, a narcotics detection dog assigned to the 1st Special Operations Security Forces Squadron, died of natural causes in January while serving in Operation Enduring Freedom.
Military working dogs are used in patrol, drug and explosive detection, and specialized mission functions for the Department of Defense and other government agencies in security efforts worldwide.
"[MWDs] are loyal, dedicated to their mission, their handler and the base they're protecting every single day," said Maj. Christopher Sheffield, 1st SOSFS commander. "The handlers who serve with these canines say they would sacrifice themselves for them and vice versa. This makes losing Beto that much more difficult--he was the perfect Airman. He was not just a dog; he was a fellow defender."
Beto began his career after graduating Sept. 1, 2005, from the 341st Training Squadron at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. His time with the 1st SOSFS spanned six different handlers culminating in more than 1,400 hours of service, including 85 working dog demos and leading 280 foot patrols on duty.
"Beto will never know how many lives he saved or how many homes he protected," said Tech. Sgt. Ron King, 1st SOSFS kennel master. "Beto, we are very grateful for all that you did for this great nation. You will never be forgotten."
Memorial organizers set up a "missing dog" display complete with an empty kennel, leather leash, an inverted food bucket all representing the bond between a handler and a dog that can never be broken.
"In an attempt to build our rapport, I got him a fuzzy duck with a kazoo type of squeaker inside," said Tech. Sgt. Rebecca Lind, 1st SOSFS dog handler, who first handled Beto when he was just a puppy. "The first time he made it squeak, he'd jump back about 20 feet. He then walked up to it really slowly, circling it, poke with his nose just to jump back again. This went on for quite a while until he finally got over his fear of that strange new toy. I eventually felt sorry for that toy duck--it was missing fur and was pretty gross from being slobbered on every day. You couldn't even tell what it started out as. But that was Beto's way: at first, he needed to take his time getting used to a new task, but once he did--watch out. I enjoyed watching him grow into a great MWD."
Staff Sgt. Benjamin Smith, 1st SOSFS, was Beto's last handler before and during their deployment to Afghanistan in September 2010.
"Although he wasn't my first partner, he would always be my most memorable," Sergeant Smith said. "He was a warrior who loved to work. There wasn't a day I couldn't come into the kennels and not see his big black head pop up over the wall as if saying 'Hey, Dad, are we going to go do it again today? Let's go get 'em!' He hated to be put up at the end of the night. Always on duty, that was Beto."
While he said their stories could fill books, Sergeant Smith shared his final moments with Beto.
"As we waited for the helicopter that would take us from the forward operating base back to the veterinarian on the main base, I made one last request of Beto," he said. "I told him, 'Hold on buddy. Hold on, partner. Just hang on. Just get to the vet for me. Things will be all right from there.' Beto did hold on. He held on for five hours, all the way through the helicopter ride and eventually to the vet. In his final act and through his pain, he sat up from the stretcher to lick my face. I thought he was saying 'Thanks.' It wasn't until later I realized he was saying 'Goodbye.' Beto was my partner, my friend, my hero and defender. Good boy, buddy. Good boy."
4/4/2011 12:02:49 PM ET As a former MWD handler I know how hard it is to say good-bye. Some will say they are just dogs tools we use to get the job done. But every handler knows just how human our MWDs can be. There is a special bond between dog and handler that can never be broken. Thank you for your service Beto. The world is a safer place thanks to you.
Scott Eck, Shaw AFB
3/23/2011 1:47:14 PM ET Great story as a former MWD handler I feel your pain. I handled several dogs in my military career and lost my first one to cancer. He was a great dog. I think they are much more appreciated now then in the past. Keep up the good work.