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NCO remembers service, sacrifice of military working dog

Staff Sgt. Alissa Jones holds back tears as Col. Dean C. Jackson, 72nd Mission Support Group commander, passes Marco's remains to her during a recent memorial ceremony at Tinker Air Force Base, Okla.  Marco, a military working dog assigned to the 72nd Security Forces Squadron, was killed Jan. 19 in Iraq while on patrol with Sergeant Jones.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Dave Faytinger)

Staff Sgt. Alissa Jones holds back tears as Col. Dean C. Jackson, 72nd Mission Support Group commander, passes Marco's remains to her during a recent memorial ceremony at Tinker Air Force Base, Okla. Marco, a military working dog assigned to the 72nd Security Forces Squadron, was killed Jan. 19 in Iraq while on patrol with Sergeant Jones. (U.S. Air Force photo by Dave Faytinger)

Staff Sgt. Alissa Jones salutes as she passes the memorial display for military working dog Marco during a recent memorial ceremony at Tinker Air Force Base, Okla.  Sergeant Jones and Marco were deployed to Iraq when the dog was electrocuted Jan. 19 while patrolling for bomb-making materials and weapons in Baghdad.  Following Sergeant Jones are: Staff Sgt. Brent Reimers with MWD Bratling; and Staff Sgt. Arthur Dennis with MWD Jambo. (U.S. Air Force photo by Dave Faytinger)

Staff Sgt. Alissa Jones salutes as she passes the memorial display for military working dog Marco during a recent memorial ceremony at Tinker Air Force Base, Okla. Sergeant Jones and Marco were deployed to Iraq when the dog was electrocuted Jan. 19 while patrolling for bomb-making materials and weapons in Baghdad. Following Sergeant Jones are: Staff Sgt. Brent Reimers with MWD Bratling; and Staff Sgt. Arthur Dennis with MWD Jambo. (U.S. Air Force photo by Dave Faytinger)

A display stands in memory of Marco, a military working dog killed Jan. 19 while on patrol in Baghdad, Iraq, during a recent memorial ceremony at Tinker Air Force Base, Okla.  Marco was assigned to the 72nd Security Forces Squadron at Tinker.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Dave Faytinger)

A display stands in memory of Marco, a military working dog killed Jan. 19 while on patrol in Baghdad, Iraq, during a recent memorial ceremony at Tinker Air Force Base, Okla. Marco was assigned to the 72nd Security Forces Squadron at Tinker. (U.S. Air Force photo by Dave Faytinger)

RANDOLPH AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- Lights ... Camera ... Action! It was March 2005 on the set of a small television studio in Oklahoma City. I stood behind the camera operator and watched as the host of the community interest program interviewed Staff Sgt. Alissa Jones and Marco, her military working dog partner. I believe it was their first time on the air.

I remember feeling proud to see a noncommissioned officer in a career field known for hard work and long hours getting some time in the spotlight. I was content in the knowledge that the roughly 10,000 viewers of that program would become informed about the importance of the MWD program to our nation's defense.

Sergeant Jones, who was initially apprehensive about going on camera, gamely answered each question. Marco demonstrated the control and discipline on the set that I had come to expect of the military dogs after leading many a tour group through the Tinker AFB kennels for demonstrations. He was a good, friendly-looking dog; at a glance, you might think he was a big lap dog. Having seen him in training, I knew he could be very much the opposite!

Sergeant Jones explained to the host how handlers and dogs are true partners in the mission. She talked about how it becomes just as easy, or easier, to trust a canine partner as a human, because of a dog's unwavering loyalty and devotion. She described patrol missions in war zones and how the dogs are right there by the security forces member's side the whole time, ready to spring into action using their noses ... and their teeth if necessary.

After the show wrapped up, we returned to base and parted with the usual pleasantries. In time, my interactions with Sergeant Jones, Marco, and small-market television were stored away in the "old memories" department of my mind.

Until Marco got another, final, brush with fame.

While skimming the news stories on Air Force Link in late January, I came across a headline that stopped me immediately: "Tinker canine dies while on patrol in Iraq." I was shocked and saddened as I read about how 7-year-old Marco was electrocuted while helping Sergeant Jones and her team search for Improvised Explosive Device-making materials and weapons caches in Baghdad Jan. 19.

Later, I looked at photos from Marco's memorial service at Tinker. I was happy, but not surprised, to see the grand send-off they provided this fallen member of our team. I saw the emotion on Sergeant Jones' face when the commander presented her with a memento, and realized she still felt the loss very acutely.

I remember how well this team represented the Air Force in life, and how bravely Marco served his country and his handler even to the death. I appreciate Marco's sacrifice. By meeting him and hearing Sergeant Jones share details about his duties and "personality," I came to realize the term "joint fight" actually applies to more than just members of different military branches ... and that very often our four-legged teammates make sacrifices for freedom as well.
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