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MWD retires, reunited with wingman

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Anthony Despins, 20th Security Forces Squadron military working dog (MWD) handler, pets his dog, Jony, at his home in Sumter, S.C., March 22, 2017. Despins adopted Jony, his first MWD, after the dog retired due to a compressed disc in his spine. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Destinee Sweeney)

Staff Sgt. Anthony Despins, a 20th Security Forces military working dog handler, pets his dog, Jony, at his home in Sumter, S.C., March 22, 2017. Despins adopted Jony, his first MWD, after the dog retired due to a compressed disc in his spine. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Destinee Sweeney)

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Garon Shelton, 20th Security Forces Squadron (SFS) commander, left, awards Jony, a retiring 20th SFS military working dog (MWD), center, a certificate of meritorious service, while Staff Sgt. Brian Claypool, 20th SFS MWD handler, right, holds the certificate at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., March 22, 2017. Jony retired after nine years of service due to a compressed disc in his spine. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Destinee Sweeney)

Lt. Col. Garon Shelton, the 20th Security Forces Squadron commander, awards Jony, a retiring 20th SFS military working dog, a certificate of meritorious service, while Staff Sgt. Brian Claypool, a 20th SFS MWD handler, holds the certificate at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., March 22, 2017. Jony retired after nine years of service due to a compressed disc in his spine. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Destinee Sweeney)

SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. (AFNS) -- In 2012, Staff Sgt. Anthony Despins, a 20th Security Forces Squadron military working dog handler, met Jony, his first canine partner.

Together the two used their individual skill sets to make a formidable team, certified as an explosives detection and patrol unit to keep people around the world safe and their fellow Airmen out of harm’s way.

Jony was really excited, always happy to see people and very energetic said Despins. Even back then, Jony knew what was expected of him and how to do his job.

Jony’s performance during his initial training determined what certifications he received; military working dogs can receive narcotics and explosives credentials as well as certification as a patrol dog.

“All their physical traits: their sight, their hearing, their nose, their speed (and) their teeth bring so much to the table,”said Despins. “Things we can’t do and the equipment we’re provided can’t do.”

Although the physical traits are necessary for success, it takes more than just advanced senses for a dog to pass initial training.

“They must be able to listen to commands,” said Despins. “If they can’t do that they’ll automatically be disqualified. Some dogs just don’t have the drive.”

Jony continued to serve with five other handlers, including Tech. Sgt. Kevin Edward Davis, Jr., a 20th SFS assistant flight chief. The pair deployed to Afghanistan together in 2013.

“Dogs would sacrifice and do anything for their handler,” said Staff Sgt. Robert Coughlin, a 20th SFS MWD handler. “It doesn’t matter what it is. They have no fear of what they go into as far as the danger.”

During one of his deployments, Jony went on more than 60 missions in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, finding six explosives and enduring five firefights. Jony also went on seven explosive detection missions with the Secret Service in support of the president and vice president of the United States.

Thanks to Jony’s acute sense of smell, Davis and his team were able to come back home to their families.

The unwavering faith between military working dogs and handlers is not left behind on the battlefield.

“They’re wingmen,” said Davis. “Not only are they there through the thick and thin, the good times and the bad times, they’re there to protect and they’re there to watch out for you.”

According to Davis, the bond is incomparable to any other.

“You can create a façade as you’re going through your day to day,” said Davis. “However the dog knows; they know when something’s not right or if you feel down or depressed and are just trying to keep a straight face.”

The sun is rising as Jony takes his “last ride” in a patrol truck around the kennel, allowing him to say goodbye to his family of handlers, fellow MWDs and the base he has worked hard to protect.

After Jony is let out of the vehicle, he walks down the center aisle dividing the crowd, on the same field where he spent years training to protect and detect.

Friends, family and those who may have only known Jony through his acts of courage gathered to commemorate nine years of distinguished service. Jony barks throughout the ceremony, joining the crowd in celebration of his accomplishments.

Like so many Airmen before him, Jony receives a retirement pin for his dedication to symbolize his transition from an active-duty service member to retiree; unlike most Airmen, Jony is also presented with a bone to symbolize his transition from the kennel to the couch, reclaiming his place at the side of an old familiar friend.

“I don’t look at Jony as a pet or as an animal,” said Despins. “I look at him as more than that. He’s like my best friend, even though he can’t talk back.”

Five years and several partners later, Jony’s leash is relinquished and permanently put in Despins hands, and together the two go home.

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