‘Man’s best friend’

Editor’s note: This is the second of a three part series on the retirement of a military working dog.

As more guests and his fellow canines entered the Brick House, military working dog Robson, affectionately known as “Robbie,” looks around with growing excitement.

One of the 52nd Security Forces Squadron dog handlers holds his leash as he watches retired U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. David Simpson, his once and future master, direct his fellow Defenders around the nearby stage.

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It was 10 months ago when Simpson last stood on that stage for his own retirement after 16 years of service from the Air Force due to joint problems and arthritis. It was also that same time that Simpson and Robbie last parted ways – that is until their joyful reunion just a few days ago.

“Is he leaving again?” Robbie’s expression seems to convey associating Simpson’s presence on the stage again — perhaps not unlike Pavlov’s dog may have done once, too, when it linked a ringing bell to when it would get its next meal.

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Robbie’s tongue lags out one side of his snout as more people begin filling in the chairs set before him. He whines to another MWD brought in by another handler, but he gets distracted by the activity on the stage from Simpson.

His behavior is not unlike a child at his or her first birthday party – completely unaware of what’s going on including a parade of people they don’t know and following pomp and circumstance with customary songs and a big cake.

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But just like that child’s birthday is their special day, today is all about Robbie – the dog of the hour, the one who finally had his day or that his day had all gone to the dogs.

Regardless which cliché you choose, March 10, 2014, marked his final day after six years of active duty service in the U.S. Air Force.

Coincidentally, similar joint and bone conditions that led to his master retiring from the Air Force would be the same reasons behind Robbie’s, too.

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“Robson has truly been a living example of the old saying that dog is man’s best friend,” said Lt. Col. Tamara Mayer, 52nd SFS commander. “He has faithfully served his country while protecting his handlers. While Robbie is only eight years old and still loves to work, due to medical issues, he is no longer able to perform his duties and will retire to live out the rest of his life in comfort.”

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“It takes a special canine to be an MWD,” Mayer said. “They work day in and day out for a pat on the head, a scratch behind the ears, a few words of praise and a kong [toy] to chew on. They serve at the gates and on patrol with the handlers that they ask for nothing in return.”

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“Some view the MWD as a tool, but those who work with these awesome animals know just how loyal and faithful they can be,” Mayer said. “MWDs may walk on four legs; but they are Airmen nonetheless and amazing members of the security forces family. It is important to hold ceremonies like this, because it is often the only time the MWD receives recognition for the outstanding job they do. As Robson heads into retirement, may he blessed with green pastures and wide open fields, and enjoy happiness with his newly adopted family in Florida.”

During the ceremony, Mayer handed Simpson a blue collar to replace the one on Robbie’s neck, symbolizing the transition in the dog’s life from active-duty service to retirement.

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“As you heard, Robson has accomplished many things throughout his career,” said Simpson, whose second time speaking at the podium in one year seemed more emotional, as he was not speaking about himself but his friend. “We were together for over four years, and although he was classified as equipment for the majority of his life, he was always more than that to me. We’ve been friends since the first time we met.”

Following that first day would be hundreds of hours patrolling the installation, protecting the President and Vice President of the United States throughout Europe and deploying in support of Operations Iraqi Freedom and New Dawn.

“From the time he first chewed my shower shoes when we went TDY to when we were protecting each other down range, Robson’s puppy-like personality and security mindset helped us to bond very quickly,” Simpson said, as Robson continued gnawing on his chew toy in front of the audience. “As time went on, our bond strengthened and Robson continued to exceed my expectations. He was great at his job and never asked for much.”

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“We reward these dogs in one way or another when they perform a task, and all Robson asked was for my love and to be cared for,” Simpson added. “A MWD is an extension of his handler. Robson and I shared a connection which most dog teams know – these dogs are a lot of times our best friend.”

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Yet, as if the speeches and change of the dog collar had not been symbolic enough, the time had come for the actual orders to be published.

The service that began six years ago when Robson graduated from the 341st Training Squadron at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, in July 2007 to his time at Spangdahlem would then end with the following sentence:

“Attention to orders,” shouts one of the event narrators. “Effective 10 March 2014, MWD Robson L096 is relieved from active duty, 52nd Security Forces Squadron, Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, and is retired effective 10 March 2014 by the order of the commander, 52nd Security Forces Squadron.”

With those words, Robbie was no longer in the Air Force’s care — he was now Simpson’s.

Beyond his comprehension of the moment (at least as we can understand it,) Robbie then watched as Spangdahlem Honor Guard members performed a flag-folding ceremony.

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He then saw Simpson receive a shadow box display from the kennel staff, detailing the achievements and military honors he had earned during his service.

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Lastly, he got to chew on a huge bone – one last gift from the team – as Defenders served cake to the guests.

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But whether or not Robbie understood everything going on around him didn’t matter.

All Robbie knew was that Simpson was beside him.

And this time, they’d never have to say goodbye again.

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