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Luke MWD finds a home in retirement

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Caroline Burnett
  • 56th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

LUKE AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz. -- The military working dog looked up at his handler, eyes wide in anticipation of what was to come after a retirement pin was added to his collar. DC had spied 40 bright yellow tennis ball underneath each chair occupied at his retirement ceremony. The K-9 had attended ceremonies before while helping protect the attendees, but tennis balls are an unusual addition -- to MWD’s they represent play time. While DC anticipated play as the crowd picked up the balls, he could not have fully understood this time it would be for the rest of his life with his best friend.

On Feb. 20, 2020, DC retired during a ceremony at the Luke Air Force Base kennels after serving as a military working dog for nearly seven years.  

His handler recalled the beginnings of the relationship between a man and his best friend. That relationship begin on rocky grounds.

“He had six or seven bites in eight months before I got him,” said Staff Sgt. Zachary Boozel, 56th Security Forces Squadron military working dog handler. “He was to that point where they were looking at either euthanizing him or donating him to local law enforcement.”

MWD DC was one of the largest, most aggressive working dogs the Luke Air Force Base kennels had. DC was whole-heartedly dedicated to biting insurgents, detecting bombs and other potentially dangerous foreign objects, as well as keeping his team, and more importantly his handler, safe, according to Boozel. 

When Boozel first received DC, other handlers warned him that he would have a difficult time with this particular dog. This didn’t dissuade the handler who saw the potential in DC. Since working together, DC has not had a single unauthorized bite.

“I think I’m one of the first people he fully trusts and follows,” said Boozel, “but at the same time I need to completely respect him.”

Boozel worked tirelessly, sometimes 15-hour days to train small inconsistencies out of his new partner, slowly creating a friendship along the way. As their bond continued to strengthen He began to let others touch him and give him affection, and transformed as a working dog.

Their trust was tested as they began to travel together on several temporary duty assignments in the United States and a six month deployment as one of the two Air Force members embedded in an Army battalion in Saudi Arabia.

“We had two [Air Force] guys in the whole place, and we covered everything,” said Boozel, “[DC] was my buddy. He watched movies with me, we [trained] non-stop, he would go everywhere with me.”

However, with age came injury and the inability to keep up with the younger, more agile dogs in the kennel.

At eight years old, DC is now ready to hang up his harness that displays his working dog patches and curl up on the couch like a “normal dog.”

“For [DC’s] retirement, I’m just looking forward to him being able to be a dog,” said Boozel, “He doesn’t know anything besides working, but to them it’s all fun and games.”

To commemorate his hard work during his career, the 56th SFS gave DC a full military retirement ceremony officiated by Maj. Kimberly Guest, 56th SFS commander.

Guest explained during her speech that Boozel had a special gift, one not every dog handler has: DC is able to transform from aggressive working dog into one of the cuddliest, and biggest, lap dogs she’d ever seen.

“That really is a testament to the relationship that Zach has built with DC,” said Guest, “They really don’t treat them as a dog, [but as] an extension of themselves.”

At the conclusion of the retirement, DC was met with tennis balls thrown by the ceremony’s audience and plenty of praise and affection.

DC’s career is now on display in one of the many shadow boxes in the kennel’s heritage room, commemorating his hard work and dedication to his handler and his team.

As his military career ends, a new chapter of his life begins. Boozel was the handler to tame the beast that once was DC; and in his retirement, DC’s trustworthy handler and friend becomes his forever home in civilian life.

“I love the connection you can make with the dogs,” said Boozel, “they’re not equipment, it’s like my partner every day, it’s the only guy I’m with all the time.”  

Boozel officially adopted DC on Feb. 26 and took him home as not only his partner, but his buddy for life.

Staff Sgt. Zachary Boozel, 56th Security Forces Squadron military working dog handler, celebrates with his K-9, DC, Feb. 20, 2020, at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz. DC has been a military working dog for nearly seven years and retired at 8 years old. Military working dogs and their handlers are responsible for protecting personnel and assets on military installations and the surrounding community. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Caroline Burnett)

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