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20th SFS honors retiring MWDs

Astra, retired 20th Security Forces Squadron (SFS) military working dog (MWD), plays in the grass near Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., circa 2018.

Astra, retired 20th Security Forces Squadron (SFS) military working dog (MWD), plays in the grass near Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., circa 2018. Astra, now 11 years old, became a patrol explosive detector dog in 2008 and served with the 20th SFS until her retirement March 14, 2018. (Courtesy photo)

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. David Mussio, 20th Security Forces Squadron (SFS) military working dog (MWD) trainer, stands with MWD Marky in a deployed location, circa 2015.

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. David Mussio, 20th Security Forces Squadron (SFS) military working dog (MWD) trainer, stands with MWD Marky in a deployed location, circa 2015. Marky, now a Purple Heart recipient, was trained as a patrol explosive detector and deployed six times. (Courtesy photo)

Astra, 20th Security Forces Squadron military working dog (MWD), guards her bone during an MWD retirement ceremony at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., March 14, 2018.

Astra, 20th Security Forces Squadron military working dog (MWD), guards her bone during an MWD retirement ceremony at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., March 14, 2018. During her time as an MWD, Astra deployed five times in support of Operations Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom, Inherent Resolve and Freedom’s Sentinel. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kathryn R.C. Reaves)

Marky, left, and Astra, 20th Security Forces Squadron military working dogs, perform their final bite during their retirement ceremony as Col. Daniel Lasica, 20th Fighter Wing commander, stands in a bite suit at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., March 14, 2018.

Marky, left, and Astra, 20th Security Forces Squadron military working dogs, perform their final bite during their retirement ceremony as Col. Daniel Lasica, 20th Fighter Wing commander, stands in a bite suit at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., March 14, 2018. The dogs served a combined 21 years, or approximately 90 percent of their expected life spans. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kathryn R.C. Reaves)

Marky, 20th Security Forces Squadron (SFS) military working dog (MWD), walks with Staff Sgt. Jason McCarthy, 20th SFS MWD handler, following his ‘final ride’ at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., March 14, 2018.

Marky, 20th Security Forces Squadron (SFS) military working dog (MWD), walks with Staff Sgt. Jason McCarthy, 20th SFS MWD handler, following his ‘final ride’ at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., March 14, 2018. Marky and Astra, fellow 20th SFS MWDs, received their final rides in police vehicles before their retirement ceremony. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kathryn R.C. Reaves)

SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. -- Standing on a stage in front of their wingmen at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina, two 20th Security Forces Squadron Airmen received recognition for dedicated service to the Air Force, totaling nearly 90 percent of their lives, or 154 years – dog years, that is.

The March 14 retirement ceremony honored Astra and Marky, patrol explosive detector military working dogs, and marked the day they transitioned from service members to pets.

“I’ve seen too many memorials for K9s, so I wanted something special that everybody can actually see and enjoy,” said Senior Master Sgt. Anthony Wolfe, 20th SFS operations superintendent. “I’ve talked to handlers that have never seen a retirement for an MWD, so we tried it and this time we said, ‘Let’s go ahead and try two dogs this time.’”

As MWDs, Astra and Marky worked with their handlers to provide safety and security by sweeping nearly 110,000 vehicles and facilities at Shaw as well as overseas during their combined 11 deployments.

Countless hours of training alongside 20th SFS Airmen helped hone their skills, while strengthening bonds with their teammates as they memorized maneuvers and tactics.

Tech. Sgt. Gary Magnelli, 20th SFS kennel master, reflected on this relationship as he watched them take their final ride before retirement.

“To see their final ride in person kind of choked me up a little bit,” said Magnelli. “I’ve known these dogs for quite a while, but to actually send them off that way was good.”

This connection continued to grow with each deployment Astra and Marky completed, supporting missions such as Operations Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom, Inherent Resolve and Freedom’s Sentinel.

MWDs and their handlers are always busy doing what is needed, including supporting the president and the vice president, said Magnelli.

Their experiences were apparent throughout the ceremony by the ribbons displayed on their vests.

One ribbon, worn by Marky, stood out from the others, representing the hardships he and his handler faced during one deployment.

While conducting combat operations near a deployed location, Marky and his handler were injured by an explosion, said Staff Sgt. Eric Sweat, 20th SFS MWD handler.

Marky and his handler were each awarded a Purple Heart for their injuries, including Marky’s difficulty hearing and seeing after suffering a traumatic brain injury.

“His dedication was unmatched as he later recovered and amassed 146 outside-the-wire missions and eliminated multiple explosive and weapon caches,” said Sweat.

With these types of difficulties behind them, Astra and Marky performed their final bite as MWDs before being presented with bones and their certificates for retirement.

“The part I liked the most was being able to take Astra home, being able to step up here and receive the leash from the commander and hearing the narrator say ‘military working dog Astra, now pet, retired,’” said Staff Sgt. David Mussio, 20th SFS MWD trainer and Astra’s new owner. “No longer will she be known as military working dog. She is retired. … She gets the chance to really be a pet, (no longer hearing) the word ‘no,’ she gets to lay on the bed, she gets to lay on the couch, she gets to eat what she wants. She really gets to enjoy life now.”