Dog days ahead: Retiring canine recognized for service at air base in Japan
Stars and Stripes October 12, 2023
YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — Doggie toys rained down on Riko, a military working dog who retired from active service this week during a ceremony at this airlift hub in western Tokyo.
Early onset arthritis sidelined the 7-year-old German shepherd. Riko served with Air Force security forces for five years, or 49 in dog years, according to Senior Airman Justin Young of the 374th Security Forces Squadron and the master of ceremonies at Riko’s retirement. Military working dogs typically serve 10 to 12 years.
Riko will begin civilian life at Yokota with his handler, security forces Staff Sgt. Bailey Hodgson, of Seattle, who received special dispensation to live in a base housing tower with his companion.
About 50 people showed up at Yokota’s Enlisted Club to see Riko receive the retirement certificate listing his military accomplishments.
His service began in 2018 at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, where he was trained and certified in patrols and finding explosives and narcotics.
At Yokota, Riko executed more than 200 random anti-terrorism measures, 3,000 foot patrols, swept well over 20,000 vehicles and 500 facilities and spent nearly 44,000 hours on narcotic detection, according to his certificate.
At his sendoff, he also received a special serving of ice cream and a military working dog patch custom designed by Hodgson.
As the ceremony concluded, service members gathered around the club’s stage and tossed a plethora of toys to the shepherd.
“I don’t know what he would say,” Hodgson told Stars and Stripes after the ceremony. “I just know what emotions he would have. I feel like he’d be like me out there trying to give a speech and getting super emotional. He finally gets to have the life that he never had before.”
Canine military history
Humans, including the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans, have taken canines into combat since 600 B.C., according to the U.S. Army Museum of Hawaii.
U.S. military dogs were officially organized on March 13, 1942, when Dogs for Defense, a private organization, was established to recruit them for the U.S. military’s War Dog Program, according to the American Kennel Club.
Dogs have distinguished themselves throughout U.S. military history.
During the Civil War, a Staffordshire bull terrier named Sallie served as mascot of the 11th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry; she lifted their spirits and at Gettysburg licked the wounds of her human comrades. Two months before the war ended, she died of a bullet wound at the front. A likeness of Sallie cast in bronze rests on the 11th Pennsylvania’s monument at Gettysburg National Military Park.
During World War I, Stubby, a stray Boston terrier, served with the 102nd Infantry Regiment, and alerted soldiers to gas attacks. The most decorated military working dog of the war, Stubby served in 17 battles. She was the first canine to reach the rank of sergeant, according to the Smithsonian Institution.
Dog’s best friend
Hodgson started working with Riko at Yokota in December. He soon noticed the dog let out a yelp sometimes while training; the base veterinary clinic discovered Riko has arthritis and in June deemed him ineligible for continued service.
“He was originally going to have surgery so he can keep working,” Hodgson said. “But it had spread too much for surgery to fix it.”
Hodgson volunteered to adopt Riko after the dog officially stopped working. During the application process, he learned that because he lives in a base dormitory for single airmen, he’s not permitted a pet.
“Things weren’t always easy with the adoption process,” Hodgson said during the ceremony. “They were a lot more complex. One month into the adoption process I found out that I would not be able to adopt Riko … I felt alone and hopeless, like I wasn’t going to be able to make this happen.”
Thankfully the 374th Airlift Wing approved Hodgson’s move into family residential towers, where pets are allowed. Riko since August has been living with Hodgson on base, where he enjoys lying on the couch and listening to reggae music.
“I’ve worked with three different dogs and Riko is my favorite,” Hodgson said. “Riko was the closest to a friend. So, I was really happy to be able to bring him home.”