Military News

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Team Dover Airman loses work partner but gains a new family member

by Senior Airman William Johnson
436th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

1/19/2016 - DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. -- It is a dream come true for every military working dog handler; retire your MWD and adopt them to come home and live a relaxing lifestyle for their remaining years. That dream is coming true for one 436th Security Forces Squadron MWD handler as his K-9 trades in his kennel and cement floors for a comfortable couch and a familiar companion.

MWD Rico/M137 retired from Air Force active duty after seven years and eight months of faithful and dedicated service Jan. 15, 2016, at Dover Air Force Base, Del. Rico is now in the process of being adopted by his former handler, Staff Sgt. Jason Spangenberg, 436th SFS MWD trainer.

"Being able to retire your military working dog and take him home is probably one of the coolest things that can happen to you as a handler," said Spangenberg. "After everything Rico has sacrificed for himself and the military, it's just time for him to go home and chill. I'm extremely excited to let him go home and finally be a dog for once."

Even though Rico will go home with Spangenberg, he has had several handlers over his eight years of service. Rico was born Sept. 1, 2006, and entered the Air Force on May 5, 2008. Rico excelled through his initial training at the 341st Training Squadron at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, and arrived to Dover AFB on August 27, 2008.

Upon arrival to Dover AFB, Rico was assigned to then Staff Sgt. Matthew Salter, 436th SFS MWD handler. Salter was a green handler and Rico was his first assigned MWD.

"I didn't know what to think of Rico at first because he was trained differently than every other dog at Dover," said Salter. "They had just started using newer methods to train the dogs at that time so I had to learn how to work him in that manner and I also had to teach myself on how to train him."

Rico was initially trained as a single purpose explosive dog, however while on his first deployment to Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, Salter worked with a former Navy K-9 trainer and trained Rico to conduct patrol work. Once Salter and Rico returned from their deployment, the pair traveled to back to Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, and Rico was certified as a dual purpose explosive and patrol K-9.

The pair later deployed again in 2012 to Manas Air Base, Kyrgyzstan. While on the deployment, Salter was promoted to technical sergeant and when he returned to Dover AFB, he was reassigned as the kennel trainer and Rico was assigned to Spangenberg on July 9, 2012. However, it was anything but love at first sight. At the time, Spangenberg was just arriving to Dover AFB and was eager to be assigned a Belgian Malinois.

"In the beginning, I wasn't a big German Shepherd fan," said Spangenberg. "I wanted the mal. As handlers, we always want the mal. We always want the new-new of dogs and Rico was, you know, a German Shepherd."

Spangenberg said Rico and he often butted heads at first and Rico frequently misbehaved in his cage. He said it was not until their pre-deployment training that they started to build that unbreakable bond between K-9 and handler.

In 2013, Spangenberg and Rico deployed to Village Stability Platform Tash Guzar, Afghanistan, in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. They spent every minute of every day during their eight month deployment together and even shared a twin sized bed when they slept. The pair served with U.S. Army Special Operation Forces in more than 160 combat missions and discovered more than 200 pounds of homemade explosives and detected five improvised explosive devices. Spangenberg and Rico were awarded the Army Combat Infantry Badge, Air Force Combat Action Badge and a Bronze Star.

"I can honestly say if it wasn't for my dude here next to me in Afghanistan, I wouldn't be standing here in front of all of you today," said Spangenberg during Rico's retirement ceremony.

It seemed that nothing could separate the two until Spangenberg was injured and required surgery. In January 2014, Rico was reassigned to Staff Sgt. Andrew Aninsman, 436th SFS MWD handler and deployed for a fourth time to Eskan Village, Saudi Aribia, in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

After a short year, Rico was assigned back to Spangenberg in January 2015. They had 90 days to be certified to work together again but it took only a fraction of the time.

"It was literally like we didn't miss a day," said Spangenberg. "We picked right back up and validated and certified within two weeks."

But as with all good things, and careers, it must come to an end. Rico is being retired due to medical conditions.

U.S. Army Capt. Amanda Jeffries, Dover AFB Veterinary Treatment Facility officer-in charge and veterinarian, said Rico has spondylosis deformans along the underpart of his spine, making it extremely difficult and painful for him to work and search high and run long distances.

"It's really an arthritic change, similar to what age-related changes people get and have a lot of pain when they get older," said Jeffries. "The new bone formation along the spine makes mobility more difficult and can make it much more painful to do the same things over and over again as he did when he was younger."

Luckily for Rico, Spangenberg has no plans of working him hard after adoption. Spangenberg said Rico's future encompasses warm carpets and comfortable furniture for him to relax on.

"He's just going to chill," said Spangenberg. "He's going to be spoiled, well I mean he's spoiled now but I'm going to spoil him even more.

I am grateful and honored to adopt him," said Spangenberg during Rico's retirement. "As a handler, there is no other joy than to be able to have your partner become a part of your family and I can honestly say this is the coolest thing that has ever happened to me."

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