Speaking next to an empty dog crate, Air Force Staff Sgt. Christopher Pritchett fought through tears Friday while remembering his one-time partner, Arko.
“Those who have called themselves dog handlers are the only people who can truly understand the bond between handlers and dogs. A bond that can’t be broken even in death,” Pritchett told those attending a memorial service for the military working dog.
Members of the 88th Security Forces Squadron at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base remembered the German shepherd as one of their own during a service Friday morning at the Base Club. About 60 people attended the memorial along with eight other military and area police dogs and their handlers.
Arko served nearly five years as a patrol and explosive detector dog at the base. Arko and Pritchett, now the squadron’s kennel master, served two overseas tours together in Iraq and Afghanistan, always side-by-side. Arko was laid to rest Feb. 16, 2014, at the base kennel after dying suddenly of a twist in his intestines. He was six.
After the service began with the posting of colors and the singing of the National Anthem, Maj. John Rose, commander of the 88th Security Forces Squadron, said the unit lost one of their own.
“They are family. They go with us to some of the worst places on Earth,” Rose said.
Rose told those attending that working dogs play an important role in thwarting what he said is one of the biggest threats to base security: an explosive device aboard a vehicle.
“On a daily basis they’re out there making sure that threat doesn’t get on this base, and ensuring the safety and security of both the people and the resources on this base,” Rose said.
Rose listed a few of the missions Arko completed in the final year of his life. The list included four detection sweeps of presidential support aircraft and safeguarding thousands of personnel at the base and visitors to the National Museum of the United States Air Force. Arko also responded to a middle school bomb threat and searched 200 rooms and 500 lockers to ensure a safe return for students, faculty and staff.
“Sometimes they go out there with us. Sometimes they die with us. And sometimes they even die for us,” Rose said.
As the service drew to a close a bugler played taps and the country’s flag was folded and handed to Arko’s last handler, Staff Sgt. Aaron Charles Walker.
“We’re not just celebrating a dog’s life, we’re celebrating a service member’s life,” Walker said. “He was my partner. He was just like any other of my fellow airmen that I work with every day.”