Wednesday, June 08, 2016

TOP STORY >> Saluting our four-legged heroes

Leader staff writer

The Cabot Animal Shelter held a dedication on Saturday at the Military Working Dog Memorial.

Cabot Animal Shelter director Mike Wheeler said while traveling, he noticed there were war memorials but few recognizing military working dogs.

“I did not find one dedicated to military working dogs. What better place than at the animal shelter where people and dogs can bond every day?” Wheeler said.

The monument, flag pole, concrete and fence were paid for with $5,000 raised in donations specifically for the memorial.

Little Rock Air Force Base commander Col. Charles Brown with the 19th Airlift Wing said, “There is a true bond between military working dogs, combat airlift and what defenders do.”

Staff Sgt. Tommy Duncan is a military working dog handler with the 19th Security Forces. Brown said he was at the Dallas Fort Worth airport traveling when he met Duncan, who was in uniform. Brown had just been named commander of LRAFB.

Brown learned that Duncan was delayed. Duncan explained that if he has to spend the night, he has to find a kennel that will take a military working dog and fill out paperwork.

He does a kennel check every four hours to make sure his dog Ricsi has water and food. Duncan then has to fill out paperwork to get the dog out of kennel service and transport the dog to the airport.

“(Duncan) wasn’t able to do anything without putting his military working dog first, and in combat Ricsi wouldn’t do anything without putting Tommy first. This bond lasts forever,” Brown said.

Duncan was deployed to Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates, where there were no C-130Js stationed. He was working with 250 military personnel and Ricsi.

The kennel had been decertified. The dogs were living in substandard conditions.

“(Duncan) quickly became recognized as the leading instructor over there,” Brown said.

The sergeant stayed behind after his six-month deployment with his know-how and expertise to ensure the base built the right kennel for the right price for the dogs to execute the mission, Brown said.

“It is undeniable there is a special bond between humans and dogs. Many of us have pets of our own. For a canine handler, dogs are more than pets. We are partners. We have to trust each other in order to be an effective dog team,” Duncan said.

“The bond between a military working dog and his handler grows while being deployed,” the sergeant continued. “We are hardly ever separated. When I had days off, I felt I needed to go in and spend time with him so he wasn’t sitting in a kennel all day. We played and threw the Kong (dog toy) and just let them be a dog,” Duncan said.

Duncan said soon Ricsi will be retired and the sergeant will bring Ricsi home to be a part of his family.

“That is the greatest part I’m looking forward to — letting him relax and have a life as a dog and do what he wants,” Duncan said.