100th SFS K-9 section mourns loss, pays tribute to MWD Berry

  • Published
  • By Karen Abeyasekere
  • 100th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

The 100th Security Forces Squadron Military Working Dog section, along with Airmen and military working dogs from Royal Air Force Mildenhall and RAF Lakenheath, paid tribute to fallen MWD Berry, W536, at a ceremony Feb. 24, 2022, after he passed away Feb. 7 after suffering from cancer.

Berry, a black German Shepherd, had served his country and RAF Mildenhall since July 9, 2014.

He was whelped July 1, 2013, and conducted his training at Joint Base Sant Antonio-Lackland, Texas, before arriving here. The MWD was an active-duty patrol explosive dog and accomplished many prestigious missions including multiple President of the United States and Secretary of State missions. His work ethic was demonstrated to the Secretary of Defense and was instrumental in earning the 100th SFS Military Working Dog section its title of “Best in Air Force” in 2020.

The military working dogs are considered military members and are a vital part of the 100th SFS team. They are traditionally awarded one rank higher than their handlers, and the vital bond between an MWD team is like no other. Losing such a valuable teammate is a devastating blow.

“I’ve been an MWD handler, trainer and kennel master on and off for the better part of 12 years, and it never gets any easier losing one of your friends,” said Master Sgt. William Washer, 100th SFS MWD section kennel master. “To us, the dogs are not just dogs – they are our companions and most trusted confidant. I’ve had five dogs over the course of my career, and each one was special to me. I’ve been doing this a long time, and unfortunately none of the dogs that I handled are left in the system.

“As the kennel master, I still enjoy a bond with all the dogs that are in my kennel. You can’t help but draw parallel lines from the dogs in my present kennel to the dogs I’ve lost over the years. It’s important to me to honor MWD Berry because it reminds me of what that bond meant to me as a young handler,” he said. “It means doing everything that regular security forces members can do, doing it better than anyone else, and doing it with a dog on my hip. My worst day working with a dog was 10 times better than my best day without one.”

The working dog was loved by all those who worked with him.

“Berry was one of those dogs who truly loved to work and always could put a smile on someone’s face with his happy personality. He demanded attention, even if you were sleeping in hotels on a work trip to hanging out in the office, he made sure to let everyone know he was present,” said Staff Sgt. Martin Chesley, 100th SFS and the fallen MWD’s second from last handler, recalling fond memories of his friend and partner. “His jet black coat always glistened in the sun after he was bathed, but then the day after, he was back to being the stinky boy we knew who smelled like urine and your grandmas old couch! Over these few years, even with his aging, he refused to let that stop him as a working dog. In his younger days he was extremely protective of his female handler; if anyone came near her he would let them know he was not letting them touch her and meant it.” 

The MWD’s last handler was Senior Airman Spencer Noel.

“Late 2021, when we started the retirement process, Noel was truly excited to give Berry the retirement he deserved, with orthopedic beds and long walks on the beach,” remarked Chesley. “Unfortunately, SrA Noel was denied the chance to take Berry home by Mother Nature to spend his retirement years as a regular pet. With his passing, it was amazing to see our section come together and honor him like any Defender should. We cried together and told stories about how he always put a smile on our faces. But the one thing we all agreed on was his whole being was to please anyone who handled him and strive to hear ‘Good boy!’”

The K-9’s final roll call was announced, followed by the sound of “Taps” echoing around the chapel. RAF Mildenhall’s military working dogs – including a former 100th SFS MWD now stationed at RAF Lakenheath – and their handlers stood by and paid their respects to MWD Berry, before solemnly leaving the chapel in single file.

“I was honored to pay respects to MWD Berry as it will most likely be the last time as a kennel master that I have that opportunity. I’ll always remember him in the mornings, helping me feed his brothers and sisters, as well as being my sounding board when he would hang out with me in the office. He was ‘Old Man’ and ‘Bear Bear’. He was our go-to dog to train and show new handlers the way of handling.  Berry’s happiness was infectious; you always felt better in his presence. I knew that I wanted to do the best I could to showcase Berry’s life and take most of the burden off my handlers.

“Berry joins a long line of four-legged heroes that I’ve worked with. He joins fellow MWDs Benny, Astor, Brixo and Alex,” said Washer. “I like to think that they all together waiting for me, and maybe, just maybe, I’ll get to see them again one day.”