By Senior Airman Benjamin Sutton
366th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
MOUNTAIN HOME AIR FORCE BASE, Idaho - For a few weeks in January, MHAFB held the distinction of having the longest-serving military working dog in the Department of Defense.
Base leadership, fellow Defenders and other members of the Gunfighter family came out to say farewell to Tanja as she left the 366th Security Forces Squadron kennels for the last time.
"She is a Belgian Malinois and has been in the program for almost 12 years," said Staff Sgt. Robert Wilson, 366th SFS military working dog handler. "She has deployed five times to various countries around the world and has been a definite asset during her military career."
Dogs have been used in warfare since the time of the ancient Egyptians and during the Roman Empire they wore armor and spiked collars.
"The dogs provide tremendous capabilities to military personnel by searching out explosives and narcotics as well as tracking down and apprehending individuals thereby ensuring the safety of base population both at home and overseas," said Wilson. "They enhance the capabilities of law enforcement personnel and our mission throughout the Department of Defense."
Dogs and their handlers spend 24 hours-a-day together; they train, eat, sleep, and fight together.
"I am so glad I had the opportunity of working with her," said Wilson. "I never had any issues working with her and she was definitely the best dog I have ever had."
Wilson continued by relating a story from their deployment together.
"One time while we were deployed, she located explosive devices inside a third-country national vehicle," he said. "However, upon further search of the vehicle we found stolen classified documents hidden inside. In a round-about way she was able to alert us of potential explosives and keep extremely valuable classified information from being stolen."
Her last handler and new owner, Tech. Sgt. Roseann Kelly, 366th SFS assistant flight chief, had a similar story from their deployment together.
"We were performing multiple roles including base patrolling and determent," said Kelly. "She alerted on an individual who had jumped the fence and when we began moving toward him he decided to leave instead of deal with her. She is still kicking butt after all these years.
"These dogs act as a first line of defense against enemy threats because they can smell things and go places humans can't. Patrol work makes them fearless and they will attack if ordered to by their handlers."
Now that Tanja is retiring she has a new set of "challenges" ahead of her.
"I don't think she will have any problem adjusting to being a civilian since she's been preparing and practicing for house-dog life for years," laughed Kelly. "She loves to lounge around and play games like most dogs do. I love the military working dogs and am excited to adopt Tanja."
Kelly explained they had an unusual relationship for a MWD and handler.
"I actually babied her quite a bit and put sweaters on her because the veterinarian said as she got older her circulation wouldn't be as good," said Kelly. "I wanted to ensure she was cozy and warm during the cold winters. Of course, all the other handlers picked on us but I didn't care because she liked it."
Kelly wasn't the only former handler who treated Tanja different because of her unique personality.
"I could go on all day about Tanja because she is a terrific dog and I consider it an honor to have been able to work with her," said Wilson. "I'm glad I will be able to see her retire and enjoy a normal life because she has earned it."
The transition into life as a normal dog will mean a little more work for both Tanja and Kelly.
"I will have to watch her when I take her places because of her age and the fact that she was a dual-purpose dog who did a lot of patrol work during her career," said Kelly. "I will mostly need to watch other people and how they are responding and reacting to her. Honestly, I doubt there will be any issues because of her good disposition."
That particular temperament is one of the main reasons she has been so popular with handlers throughout her service.
"She is such a warm-hearted and caring dog," said Kelly. "As old as she is she continues to have a fantastic personality and endless spunk. She has served her country and can now look forward to enjoying herself and relaxing. It's going to be interesting watching her adjust to eating snacks and taking naps like any other regular dog."
Kelly has planned a relaxing evening for her new companion.
"I'm so excited to take her home because I bought her some Christmas gifts which she will finally be opening today," laughed Kelly. "Adopting military working dogs is such a fantastic service we provide to these veterans. All Tanja has known is service and she deserves a chance to enjoy a relaxing retirement now that it's complete- just like any other service member.