Robins remembers military working dog's ultimate sacrifice

  • Published
  • By Holly Birchfield
  • 78 ABW/PA
An empty kennel, upside down water and food bowls, and a shadow box holding an American flag, a brass plaque, a charred choke chain, leash, and photo of Military Working Dog Arras set the stage for the memorial of the K-9 many in the 78th Security Forces Squadron said they'll never forget.

MWD Arras, a 5-year-old Dutch sheppard explosives detector and patrol dog in the 78th SFS, was assigned to the 447th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron and Joint Operations, Sather Air Base, Iraq, when he was killed as he touched a location that was electrified by power cables during a search for weapons and explosives in a building on Sept. 25.

Just one day before Thanksgiving, 78th SFS members, Robins Air Force Base community members, and members of the Warner Robins Police Department gathered at the Base Theater to reflect on the ultimate sacrifice Arras made while defending freedom.

Beny, a military working dog in the 78th SFS, remained on stage with Staff Sgt. Josh Kiffer, a military working dog handler in the squadron, throughout the ceremony as a reminder of the service Arras provided.

Capt. Eric Horst, 78th SFS commander, said the memorial is a testament to military working dogs' service.

"Most folks, as we've gone through the Global War on Terrorism, have seen the different generations of the different services doing their memorial services for individual personnel or troops," he said. "It hasn't been very often that we've had K-9 troops, as we like to refer to them, that we've done memorial ceremonies for, but it's important to let people know that K-9s are playing an important role in the mission that we're doing over there."

Staff Sgt. Marcus Reaves, a military working dog handler in the 78th SFS Military Working Dog Section, who was deployed with Arras when he died, knows the value of his military working dog partner all too well.

The military working dog handler credits Arras with saving his life - something every military working dog does every day on the job, Sergeant Reaves said.

In Sergeant Reaves' case, however, that was an even more special gift, as he and his wife, Tonya, are expecting their third child in the very near future.

"On my way back, I landed in Germany and (I was talking to this guy)," he said. "I told him that my wife's pregnant and he mentioned it to me that I should get home to see my child born, and it hit me that I do. I thank Arras whole-heartedly for that."

The memorial was very emotional for Sergeant Reaves.

"It brought the day (that he died) back a little bit," he said. "It's gone through my head a million times. Was there anything I could have done different? But, the only thing I could have done different was to not go in the room at all and that's not what the job (called for), so we had to go in the room."

Staff Sergeant Edward Canell, a military working dog trainer in the 78th SFS' Military Working Dog Section, said the memorial gives the community the opportunity to learn the value of the dogs.

"I think this will help the base populace kind of see what the dogs mean to us and how much the dogs work not just for us, but for the base populace at the gates and different areas like that. Robins has lost a great and reliable asset."

Captain Horst agreed.

"Too many times, we look at these dogs as just dogs," he said. "People will say, 'Oh, you had a dog that died.' We try to tell people to imagine it's their pet, but it's even more than that. In these guys' cases, this is their partner. This is the 'person' that goes with them in everything they do.

"The dogs don't ask much of us. They look up to their handlers (as if to say), 'I'm willing to do whatever you tell me to do,' and they'll go into harms way because they don't know any better. In cases like this, it costs them their lives."

Tech. Sgt. David Barber, kennel master in the 78th SFS' Military Working Dog Section, said the squadron has lost a family member.

"The memorial is a time to remember Arras," he said. "He was as much one of us as he was a dog. He was a partner and we worked as closely with him as we would with any person. He was there for us and in the end, he gave his life to protect us."

Col. Warren Berry, 78th Air Base Wing vice commander, presented Captain Horst with Arras' shadow box, which will remain on display at the 78th SFS' headquarters.

A smaller shadow box commemorating Arras' service will be displayed in the 78th ABW Command Section in Bldg. 905.

Sergeant Barber said the squadron recently began a project to remodel the Military Working Dog kennel, adding a memorial for military working dogs that have died. The memorial will include a brass plaque displaying dogs' names, among other memorabilia from the dogs' careers.

Sergeant Reaves has a picture of Arras on his cell phone display and his K-9 partner's face decorates his work area's computer screen. It was Arras' love for water that made his final resting place at Luna Lake an obvious choice.

"Any time that we had time to burn, I'd take him over to the lake and he had a little squeaky ball," he said. "I'd throw it in there and he'd swim for days."

Arras was cremated in the International Zone of Bagdad, Iraq. His ashes were scattered at the lake in a private ceremony.