VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. --
While many people have an idea of what the average service member looks like, not many realize that some service members have four legs. The 30th Security Forces Squadron, here at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., has a year round military working dog program, where they establish front line intruder protection, health and welfare checks, anti-terrorism measures, and explosive detection measures.
As a way to honor three of the Military Working Dogs, with a combined 24 years of service, the installation hosted a retirement ceremony April 17, 2019, at Vandenberg AFB.
The ceremony for Jager, Vanda and Zsander was held at the MWD training grounds, a place they had spent the last several years training at, to signify their last moments as Active Duty canines.
Maj. James J. Nelson, 30th Security Forces Squadron commander, presided over the retirement ceremony which was attended by friends, trainers, kennel masters and the new adopting families of Jager, Vanda and Zsander. Each of the dogs received a Certificate of Meritorious Service that Nelson presented to each dog’s adopter.
The first MWD, Vanda, serviced nine years at Vandenberg AFB. During that time, Vanda deployed to several locations including Manas Air Base, Kyrgyzstan, Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, and Ali Al Salem Air Base, Kuwait. While in California, Vanda also aided during secret service missions to support Pope Francis, the president, first lady and vice president of the United States.
The second MWD that was adopted, Zsander, served at Vandenberg AFB for seven years. Zsander deployed overseas to Al Udeid Air Base Qatar in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. While at Vandenberg, Zsander executed 15,000 working hours and accumulated 4,000 hours of explosive detection search time. Vanda also established first line of intruder detection at by providing 2,000 hours of anti-terrorism measures.
Lastly, MWD Jager served the Vandenberg AFB community for eight years. Jager contributed over 10,000 working hours and accumulated 2,000 hours of narcotic detection search time. He contributed to multiple joint operations through health and welfare checks for all dormitories and also performing narcotic sweeps at the Lompoc Federal Prison.
Jager, Vanda and Zsander not only significantly impacted the DOD, U.S. Air Force and MWD program, but also the lives of those who trained them over the years.
“The handlers and their dogs have an everlasting love for each other. Most view them as Military Working Dogs, while we view them as family,” said Staff Sgt. Miguel Bravo-Padin, 30th SFS dog handler. “Working with a side kick that you trust and love, and they love and trust you back the same way… there isn’t a better feeling in this world. Leaving them is the hardest part of the job. ”
Before retiring any dog, TSgt. Paul Olmos III, 30th SFS kennel master, must first film each dog performing behavioral tests. From this footage the base veterinarian and regional veterinarian decide if the MWD is suitable for adoption. If approved, Olmos then sends all the supporting documentation to the Air Force MWD Program Manager, who then makes the final decision if the dog is fit for adoption. In this case, when Olmos received word that Jager, Vanda and Zsander were suitable for adoption, he notified previous trainers to see if any were interested.
“Most MWDs will work up until they pass away, but some get the chance to retire into a normal dog life. I can speak for almost all of the Military K9 community that we always want to see these selfless guardians enjoy the chance to retire at a reasonable age,” said Olmos. “This ceremony of recognition is a chance for us to take a moment to thank these hard working MWDs for all the selfless work they have done over the years of protecting this base.”