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
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
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."