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Saying goodbye; three MWDs retire

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Staff Sgt. Brandon Washington, 30th Security Forces Squadron dog handler, says goodbye to Military Working Dog Zsander during his, and 2 other MDW’s, retirement ceremony on April 17, 2019, at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. Maj. James J. Nelson, 30th Security Forces Squadron commander, presented a certificate of meritorious service for the three retiring MWD to the adopting family members. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Clayton Wear)

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Tech. Sgt. Steven Rosario, 30th Security Forces Squadron kennel master, and Military Working Dog Zsander pose for a photo after Zsander’s, and 2 other MDW’s, retirement ceremony on April 17, 2019, Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. Time spent after Zsander’s retirement will be spent with the Rosario’s, his new adopted family. Maj. James J. Nelson, 30th Security Forces Squadron commander, presided over the ceremony to retire the three dogs, Zsander, Jager and Vanda, for their combined 24 years of experience. (U.S. Air Force photo illustration by Senior Airman Clayton Wear)

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Maj. James J. Nelson, 30th Security Forces Squadron commander, delivers closing remarks during a Military Working Dog retirement for 3 MWDs on April 17, 2019, at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. Nelson presented a certificate of meritorious service, belonging to each dog, to adopting family members. The three retiring dogs, Zsander, Jager and Vanda, have a combined 24 years of service to Vandenberg AFB. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Clayton Wear)

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Zsander, 30th Security Forces Squadron military working dog, takes one last look at the MWD training grounds as an active duty canine before his, and 2 other MDW’s, retirement ceremony on April 17, 2019, at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. Zsander’s nine year career at Vandenberg AFB was celebrated by his family, friends and trainers. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Clayton Wear)

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Staff Sgt. Dominic LaForest, 66th Security Forces Squadron kennel master from Hanscom Air Force Base, Mass., adopted Military Working Dog Vanda, following her retirement ceremony on April 17, 2019, at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. Vanda retired after nine years of service at Vandenberg AFB. During those nine years, she also deployed to Manas Air Base, Kyrgyzstan, Al Udeid Air Base Qatar, and Ali Al Salem Air Base, Kuwait. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Clayton Wear)

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Vanda, Jager, and Zsander, 30th Security Forces Squadron military working dogs, retired on April 17, 2019, at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. Each dog, and their new owner, accepted certificates of meritorious service for their contributions to the U.S. Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Clayton Wear)

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.”