ROBINS AIR FORE BASE, Ga. --
The overcast skies outside the Museum of Aviation reflected the solemn mood inside the Nugteren Hangar.
On March 25, the 78th Security Forces Squadron at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia, gathered to honor their fellow Defender, Teddy, a Military Working Dog.
Not only did he serve and protect Robins for close to a decade, he managed to be a teacher, too.
“Teddy was a vet and this was my first job. He had been working the roads for seven years when we paired up. So, I learned a lot from him through our day-to-day operations,” said Staff Sgt. Christopher Diaz, 78th SFS MWD handler.
Diaz, Teddy’s last handler, laughingly added, “He showed me, ‘Hey dummy, this is how you do this job.’ What we did here was very different from tech school. It was an eye-opener.”
For 15 months, the partners performed a variety of routine tasks: walking patrols, traffic stops, along with narcotics and explosives sweeps.
In June 2020, life as the duo knew it was about to change.
Teddy’s body was under attack. The 9-year-old Belgian Malinios fell ill with a digestive infection.
“I first noticed something was wrong when he didn’t want to eat. Then he started losing weight, and that was making him weak. So he was placed on light duty for several months,” said Diaz.
The MWD section is a small close-knit group of eight handlers and now six dogs.
They all thought the ‘bug’ would pass. Instead, it lingered.
So, in December the process got underway to retire Teddy. And what happened next was described as a cruel twist of fate by those who loved him.
“It still seems unreal. Teddy’s retirement paperwork was approved the day before he died,” said Staff Sgt. Autumn Smith, 78th SFS MWD handler. “Also, on that day, he was outside running around and jumping. You wouldn’t have known anything was wrong with him.”
During the early hours of Thursday, Feb. 11, their spry pal passed away inside his kennel.
“I came in to feed him and get our day going, and he was gone,” Diaz said.
Teddy’s unexpected death, that winter morning, deprived his work family the chance to say goodbye.
However, they were given the opportunity to choose a spring day to celebrate his life and contributions to the Air Force.
The ceremony for the four-legged Airman was held two days before, what would have been, his eighth anniversary of service at the installation.
“He was a special kind of good crazy. He was playful and stubborn at times, but he put in the hard work,” said Diaz.
Teddy was honored with the same military burial rites that would be bestowed upon a human service member.
Tech Sgt. Seth Wilson, 78th SFS kennel master, highlighted some of Teddy’s accomplishments during the Certificate of Meritorious Service presentation.
“As an active duty vigilant sentry, Teddy took part in a variety of prestigious missions. He played a vital role in combating the flow of narcotics at the United States-Mexico border, which resulted in the seizure of $3.6 million worth of illegal drugs,” said Wilson. “He also flawlessly executed 2,880 hours of foot patrols and random anti-terrorism measures both on the installation and abroad.”
A focal point of the ceremony was the traditional “Missing Dog Display.” It featured several items that hold significant meaning for those left behind and the departed.
“The leather leash and hanging chain represent the everlasting bond between dog and handler, while the empty kennel where the military working dog once slept represents the life they gave to protect us and our freedom,” said Staff Sgt. Maria Spencer, 78th SFS MWD handler. “The inverted pan and bowl serve as reminders our partner is no longer here for us to fulfill their needs of food and water.”
The 78th SFS Honor Guard conducted the flag presentation, which was followed by the reading of the poem “Guardians of the Night,” a staple of these services.
In part it reads, “Trust in me, my friend, for I am your comrade…It is for you that I will unselfishly give my life, and fill my nights without rest…Together you and I shall experience a bond only others like us will understand…I am a Military Working Dog, and together we are guardians of the night.”
Afterwards, Diaz stood stoically and prepared for the base defense operations center to render Teddy’s final roll call over the radio.
The speaker announced “BDOC to all posts and patrols, please standby on all transmissions, I say again, standby on all transmissions. Standby for last call to MWD Teddy… To all post and patrols, MWD Teddy answered the final call…rest in peace MWD Teddy. We have the watch.”
Diaz gave a final salute to Teddy’s ashes and returned to his seat.
A brief moment of silence was interrupted by the somber sounds of Taps enveloping the room.
As mourners left the hangar, the sun started piercing through the gray clouds.
Diaz believes Teddy made him a better handler and for that reason his legacy will live on.
“I spent more time with him than my family. He will be missed,” said Diaz. “He deserved this (ceremony). All MWDs deserve this because they risk their lives, too. In our work we say ‘canines lead the way.’ Their lives are devoted to taking care of us on the frontline and we have to do what we can to care for them.”