The nation’s top military commanders watched the flags from each branch of the service unfurl over the new U.S. Military Working Dog Teams National monument, placed at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland in honor of the training site as well as the canine trainees.
About 3,000 Military Working Dogs are serving around the world right now, providing services from protection for Secret Service assignments to sniffing out I.E.D. bombs in Afghanistan. About 900 dogs are in training at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland at any given time.
Every dog that becomes a Military Working Dog is sent through puppy training before the second phase of training, where they learn to guard, attack, and sniff out bombs and prepare for active-duty scenarios.
The dogs hold a special place in the hearts of their handlers, like Air Force Vietnam veteran Larry Chilcoat.
"Once they were deployed in Vietnam they stayed there throughout their working life," Chilcoat said. "When they couldn’t do their job anymore, they were put down and put in a canine cemetery. They were buried with honor and respect."
Dogs were considered "equipment" in previous wars. Today, dogs are brought back to the states and live out their old age comfortably, often adopted by their handlers from active duty. Chilcoat is one of four members of the board that worked to get the monument built.
"Four thousand dogs and 10,000 handlers served in Vietnam," Chilcoat said. "And most people don’t know dogs served at all."
The bronze and granite sculpture at Lackland is intended to inform the world about the canine guardians of American freedom, and it recognizes the service provided by all the military dogs that have been a part of the military since 1958.
The $2 million tribute, which was funded by private sponsors, depicts a 9-foot-tall dog handler walking with four dog figures atop a 20-foot diameter granite pedestal.