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Dignity, humor mark an Air Force dog's retirement

By ANNIE CALOVICH | The Wichita Eagle (Tribune News Service) | Published: March 11, 2016

One of the charming elements of the retirement ceremony of a military working dog from the Air Force is the placement of a couch for him to sit on, because a couch is what the veteran pooch will now be defending in retirement.

When Bengus, a 9-year-old German shepherd who gave “63 dog years of honorable service to the protection of our nation,” retired Friday at McConnell Air Force Base, he took full advantage of the situation – stretching out the length of the couch with nary a spot for his adoptive handler.

The audience of airmen, officers and civilians laughed affectionately.

They also applauded and even shed some tears as the hero dog left the service during a ceremony that featured the dignity of an honor guard, the National Anthem and a presentation of the American flag – as well as the canine treat of a humongous bone.

“I’m gonna cry,” said Veronika Archambault-Miliner, wife of the squadron commander of the 22nd Comptroller Squadron, as the narcotics-sniffing dog entered the base’s auditorium for the ceremony.

Staff Sgt. Michael Urqhart, kennel master, also choked up as he described what the companionship of such military working dogs means to airmen who are risking their lives or even just trying to stay awake through a midnight shift.

“When you’re in your first firefight, and it dawns on you there’s absolutely no way you can watch every angle … he’ll have your back,” Urqhart said. “After the firefight your heart’s pounding from adrenalin and you realize just how close you just came to dying, he’ll let you know it’s OK.”

Bengus started his service at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas in April 2008 before coming to McConnell in November of that year for drug-detection and patrol duties. He did a tour of duty in Afghanistan from November 2012 to June 2013.

But Capt. Chase Shields, operations officer of the 22nd Security Forces Squadron, also lightheartedly related how people who have worked with Bengus described him.

“I was quite shocked at the responses I heard: lazy, uneventful, unmotivated, or even, to my surprise, ‘he has spent far too much time on the narcotics scent,’ ” Shields said, drawing more laughter.

His favorite story of Bengus was the time the dog was being taken to a vehicle for duty without first being given the requisite break. Bengus taught the handler a lesson by relieving himself on the handler’s boot.

And Bengus proved the sharpness of his skills by once sniffing out narcotics 200 feet away and at least 7 feet above his handler’s head on a massive flatbed truck.

Bengus will now be the pet of Staff Sgt. Dustin Combs, who works with a different dog at McConnell but has a special spot in his heart for Bengus.

“I saw him in the kennel every day, and that look he gives you … ‘Yeah, if I can get you, I’m going to,’” Shields said he was thinking. After the ceremony, attendees shook Shields’ hand and then asked permission to pet the new veteran.

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©2016 The Wichita Eagle (Wichita, Kan.)

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