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Service dogs honored with memorial service at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst

A soldier carries a U.S. flag during the memorial service for military dogs Robby and Bagira at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey, on Friday, Nov. 1, 2019.

TECH. SGT. AUSTIN KNOX/U.S. AIR FORCE

By JARRAD SAFFREN | Burlington County Times | Published: November 3, 2019

JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST — They trained for more than 10,000 hours, served for more than 50,000 hours and completed tours at home and abroad in Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, among others.

They served in the United States Armed Forces for nearly a decade and died with dignity at the beginning of October.

They lived, and will live on, as true American patriots and heroes.

They were also dogs, named Robby and Bagira. Both service dogs were honored with a memorial service in a chapel on Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey on Friday morning.

In almost every way, the service was just like a memorial service for a human. There were eulogies, prayers and a whole lot of tears, especially at the end during a photo and video montage of both dogs.

"We lost a member of our family," said Air Force Lt. Col. Patrick Bass during the ceremony. "Losing a member of your family is never easy, but we will always remember them."

"I've never experienced a bond like this before," said Air Force Staff Sgt. Alec Ducsay, Robby's handler in the military, later in the ceremony. "I'll always remember sweet little Robby."

"Dogs don't volunteer for service, so it's on us to honor them," said Technical Sgt. William Slifer, who presided over the memorial service.

Robby joined the service in January 2011 and served as a patrol explosive detector dog, searching over 21,000 items during various tours of duty at home and abroad, including global stints in Saudi Arabia, Kyrgyzstan and Kuwait.

Bagira started serving at the joint base in 2010 and also worked as a patrol explosive dog, performing over 200 demonstrations, searching over 21,000 items and completing tours of duty in Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia.

Dogs can be big and aggressive, but they are also loyal and impressionable, and therefore easier to train than most animals. All these qualities make them valuable in the military. But it's one extraordinary dog trait that makes them essential: Their sense of smell.

After attending the memorial service Friday, Technical Sgt. Sean Phelan spoke outside the dog kennel where Robby and Bagira lived. He said a dog's sense of smell is 10,000 times better than a human's sense of smell. Phelan said that's not an estimate, either. It's a real number.

"I always equate it to a pinch of salt in an Olympic-sized swimming pool," Phelan said. "They can smell that it's in there."

"Man or machine, we can't match the capabilities they provide," he added.

Any time a dog such as Robby or Bagira passes on, it's a huge loss from a tactical standpoint. But it's sad because, like civilian dogs, they become their handler's best friends over the course of their lives.

During his eulogy, Ducsay recounted a time when he and Robby were in an elevator with a civilian woman and Robby passed gas. Then the dog turned to his handler, smiled and wagged his tail. Ducsay wiped a tear from his eye as he retold the story on Friday.

"She did it all so shamelessly," Ducsay said, chuckling.

After the service, the soldiers opened the kennel where the dogs sleep and relax to reporters for a tour. Robby's stall was empty, except for two things: A picture of her standing by Ducsay's side and an American flag draped over the entrance.

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©2019 Burlington County Times, Willingboro, N.J.
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