A Dog's Life of Service
by U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Matthew Gilmore
A new leash hangs by the door ready to go on long walks, toys
spread out across the home left exactly where they were last played
with, a Tempur-Pedic memory foam bed in the corner to nap in when
the eyes get heavy, and a family to provide a life’s worth of love.
This isn’t life in the kennels anymore, this is retirement after a
life’s worth of service.
For the recently retired and adopted
Topa, a military working dog specializing in patrol and explosives
detection, assigned to the 374th Airlift Wing at Yokota Air Base,
Japan, this is home.
“Topa has more than earned his place on
the couch for the rest of his life,” said Staff Sgt. Cody Nickell,
374th Security Forces Squadron military working dog handler, Topa’s
previous handler, and Topa’s new adopted home. “Having been lucky
enough to have been Topa’s handler for the past two years, when I
look into that boy’s eyes I know he’s given everything he has to the
mission and he has done so since the day he began working as a
military working dog.”
October 17, 2019 - Staff
Sgt. Cody Nickell, 374th Security Forces Squadron military
working dog handler, shares a moment with his teammate Topa
during Topa’s retirement ceremony at Yokota Air Base, Japan. With Topa beginning his career as a MWD in 2012, he has defended Yokota alongside his handlers for seven years before being forced to medically retire. After a life of service, Topa has been adopted by his handler, Nickell and his family, to live out the rest of his days in peace. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Matthew Gilmore)
For Topa, like all U.S. Air Force military working dogs,
that career began at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas in 2011
where he underwent 6 months of rigorous training to master the bite
and detection skills necessary for him to be an outstanding member
of any team. Upon completing his initial course, in April of 2012,
Topa was assigned to Yokota AB where he would go on to serve for
seven years before being medically retired.
“In those seven
years, Topa has supported missions across Japan, India, Laos,
Myanmar, Guam and Singapore, providing the detection skills needed
to ensure the safety of locations for the President of the United
States, Vice President of the United States, and the Secretary of
Defense,” said Nickell. “When Topa wasn’t travelling to support
other missions, he was right here at Yokota training and protecting
our installation right by my side.
“That in itself is just a
rough lifestyle for a dog to maintain for so long. We patrol and
train together out there in the elements and our dogs only know one
speed, full speed ahead. Whether it is up and over a fence or into a
car, they only know full speed. That in tandem with the bite work
that comes along with being a patrol dog adds an extra level of
stress to their bodies and it adds up.”
For Topa, the day in
and day out culminated in the formation of excess bone along the
spine that made it no longer comfortable for him to continue
serving. While the day to day mission had taken a toll on Topa’s
body, the days of training alongside his handler also left him with
a bond that would carry over into life after the Air Force.
“It is no secret that handlers form incredibly strong relationships
with their dogs,” said Tech. Sgt. Matthew Clark, 374th SFS kennel
master. “Dogs just innately are so driven and loyal and when we
match that up with them focusing on the mission with their handler,
you can just see it in how they look at their handlers, the depth of
that relationship is hard to even put into words.
exactly the reason that handlers tend to be given priority when it
comes to the adoption process and finding our animals a home to live
out the rest of their lives. When the time came, I could see what
SSgt. Nickell meant to Topa and it was easy to see that Topa would
be cared for and have the retirement he deserved.”
future home decided, Topa has since settled in with SSgt. Nickell
and his wife Monikka. Sporting a “pet me” collar, a sharp contrast
to the more serious collars worn by active working dogs, the collar
is in a way a symbol of Topa’s new life.
October 17, 2019 - Staff Sgt. Cody Nickell, 374th Security Forces Squadron military working dog handler, and his wife Monikka, perform the ceremonial collar swap signaling the end of military working dog Topa’s service at a retirement ceremony at Yokota Air Base, Japan. Beginning his service in 2012, Topa has served as a proud member of military working dog teams, putting his patrol and explosives detection training to the test in the constant defense of YAB. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Matthew Gilmore)
“I love that dog,”
said Nickell. “I look at him and I know I’m his world and he is also
mine. The best thing is that he is also now my family’s world so we
have even more love to give him.
“Even with all of our love,
retirement isn’t always easy for him. He sees me put on the uniform
every day and he just gets so excited to go out and do the mission
we carried out together for two years. It’s hard because while I
know he wants to come with me, I always have to remind him that he’s
done his job and it’s time for him to be a good boy at home napping
on the couch.
“Topa has earned that right and so much more.
Just like not all heroes wear capes, not everyone that serves raised
their right hand to do so, Topa is proof of that.
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