By Maj. Steven ColeFebruary 5, 2009
Soldiers in The Old Guard render final honors in funerals of their fellow Soldiers in Arlington National Cemetery daily, but members of the regiment's K-9 detachment rarely perform this mission.
Monday morning the detachment assembled behind the canine training facility here to pay their final respects to military working dogs, ''Rex," ''Dusty" and ''Epos" who worked in the unit.
The K-9 detachment wanted to honor the service of these dogs and asked the Fort Myer Military Community if they could bury them near their K-9 training facility here. ''These military working dogs are members of the unit just as their handlers are," Sgt. 1st Class Casey Gregg, the detachment Kennel Master, said. ''This is a small way to demonstrate our admiration for their tireless work."
The memorial service included an invocation and benediction by the regimental chaplain, a brief history of the Army military working dog, comments by the former handlers of the honored dogs, an awards presentation, and the playing of ''Taps" by a bugler in The Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps.
The first dog memorialized was Rex. Describing Rex's service, Gregg related a story of a handwritten letter he found mixed in with the dog's records shortly after his death. A former handler, Sgt. Richard Ward, had placed the typed letter in Rex's file in 2005 before he left Fort Myer. ''If this dog comes up for adoption, I really want to adopt this dog," Ward said in the letter.
Understanding the special bond between dog and handler he knew Ward would want to know his partner had died. Gregg eventually found Ward's address with a unit in Iraq and sent him an e-mail. Gregg also told Ward that before his death, Rex and his handler had taken first place honors in the 2007 MDW Military Working Dog competition for explosive detection and patrol.
''Your e-mail saddened me," Ward wrote back. ''I would like to congratulate Rex and his handler for earning the top dog award. I always knew he had it in him."
Dusty was the next dog honored by the unit. Spc. Justin Kiger related the story of how he first got acquainted with Dusty, a dog with a reputation for aggressiveness. The first time Kiger went to spray down Dusty's run he was mindful of the dog's reputation. Every time Dusty came to the interior of his run, Kiger would walk out.
''We did that a few times," Kiger said. ''Eventually I was like, well either you are going to bite me or you're not. So he never bit me and after that - we just became friends."
Also honored at the ceremony was Epos. In contrast to the two other dogs that died of age-related causes, Epos's death was unexpected due to a stomach condition. Handler Sgt. Matthew Shifflett stood in front of his unit formation and described their relationship. Shifflett seemed unable to find the words to express his feelings for a dog he said was, ''my best friend here at the kennels." Shifflett explained how numerous deployments, missions around the national capital region, and a trip to Egypt forged the strong friendship between the two.
The final dog recognized was ''Alan." Unlike the previous three, Alan was retiring from military service after five years due to health issues. Thanks to the 2001 Robby Law, qualifying military working dogs who are unable to continue service in the military, can be adopted by families.
Deputy Regimental Commander, Lt. Col. Michael McNally then presented an Army Commendation Medal to Alan, who also accepted medals on behalf of Rex and Epos. Alan sat obediently as the award orders were published and McNally pinned all three awards onto his harness.
After the bugler sounded Taps, Staff Sgt. Jason Stoddard concluded the ceremony with a tribute to the bond between dogs and handlers as he recited a poem entitled ''Guardians of the Night."
The words from one of the last lines seemed especially appropriate at this ceremony, ''And when our time together is done and you move on in the world remember me with kind thoughts and tales."