Former RAFM MWD Ukkie retires to reunite with fur-st handler

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

Military Working Dogs Ukkie and Cchuy officially retired at a joint ceremony honoring their service, which began with Cchuy immediately lightening the occasion as he barked along to the entire U.S. national anthem at Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, Dec. 13, 2023.

Military Working Dog Ukkie:

Ukkie, a Belgian Malinois, began her career at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, in October 2015, before graduating from the Department of Defense Dog Training School as a patrol/explosives detection dog. She joined the 100th Security Forces Squadron kennels at Royal Air Force Mildenhall, England, in 2017, and was soon paired with her first handler and now “Dog Mom,” then-Staff Sgt. Kristina Santos.

“In the summer/fall of 2017, I was in contact with the kennel master at RAF Mildenhall and he informed me I would probably be getting the newest MWD in the kennels,” said Santos, now a civilian dog trainer in Virginia. “At that time, I had no idea what her name was or what she looked like. On my first day in lodging at [RAF] Mildenhall, the kennel master pulled up in a marked K9 vehicle and told me to open up the back and meet my new partner…

“There she was – the smallest ‘pocket Mal’ I’ve ever seen! Ukkie was my fourth and last MWD partner in my military career. I quickly realized she had a fun and weird personality, but also a sassy side when she didn’t get her way. Ukkie taught me a lot of patience and helped me become the canine trainer I am today.”

During their time together, the duo travelled to London in support of the Secretary of Defense visit; Ramstein Air Base, Germany; El Paso, Mexico; Greece, as well as Djibouti and Kenya for deployments.

“Ukkie was my partner through some tough times and going to the kennels to take her for a run, or just sit with her, made a huge impact,” recalled Santos. “In 2020, [RAF] Mildenhall and [RAF] Lakenheath did a dog swap that resulted in Ukkie going to them and MWD Cigi coming to us. That swap made me worried that I’d never get the option to adopt Ukkie when the time came. She had just turned 7, so I figured she had a few more years left. Right before I left the military at the end of that year, I went to her kennel at RAF Feltwell and told her how much I’d miss her. I’m grateful people still shouted my name when it came to adopting her.”

Small, but with power like a rocket, Ukkie was a force to be reckoned with, always swiftly catching and taking down the decoy during training sessions. She regularly showed off her talents as the MWD used for demonstrations during base tours, events and distinguished visitor tours, as well as performing vital detection and patrol duties around base.

“There was one time another handler didn’t think it necessary to wear bite pants during training with Ukkie… he quickly learned that due to her height, she WILL bite whatever she can first, and she bit him right on the butt while escorting him, after he suddenly decided to move aggressively,” laughed Santos.

During her combined time at RAF Mildenhall and RAF Lakenheath, Ukkie amassed more than 8,900 hours of all-weather specialized explosive search, deterrence, and intruder detection operations to keep the residents of both bases safe and secure. Her accomplishments include completing numerous overseas missions in support of the U.S. Secret Service to provide a safe and secure environment for the President of the United States, countless other White House and congressional officials, foreign dignitaries, and heads of state to advance geopolitical objectives. She also provided critical threat mitigation capabilities in austere environments, supporting Operation Octave Shield while deployed to Camp Simba, Kenya, in 2019.

Now age 10 years, 8 months, Ukkie, a little bundle of energy, has finally swapped her career of patrol, detection and defense to put her paws up and chill. She’s been temporarily living at her “Aunt’s” house – Staff Sgt. Grace Daniels, 100th SFS MWD handler, who has been doing all she can for the last two years to get Ukkie back home with Santos, so the retired K9 can live out her days with a family she knows and loves.

“This is one of the most rewarding feelings, having a handler be reunited with a working dog they consider their soul or heart dog,” remarked Daniels. “Being able to help and be part of the process for Santos to get her heart dog is so rewarding – not everybody gets a chance to be reunited with the dog that had the biggest impact on them.”

Since giving up her “DO NOT PET” collar, Ukkie is now getting all the love from everyone she meets.

“Ukkie saved me, and I can’t wait to give her the retired life she deserves. I have a road trip planned to get her to Boston to see her deployment buddy, now-retired MWD Rogo, who was the only other dog deployed with us in Kenya,” said Santos.

MWD Cchuy:

Cchuy (pronounced “Chewie”) is a 7-year-old Belgian Malinois – the only Puppy Program dog at the 48th Security Forces Squadron kennels – who is looking forward to swapping a life of crime (fighting) for the couch, toys, salmon and peanut butter.

Puppy Program dogs are born, bred and initially trained at JBSA-Lackland to allow the military to breed its own dogs, cut costs and produce better-trained assets.  All Puppy Program dogs have a double-letter designation at the start of their name, to identify them as the specialist animals.

After serving five years with the RAF Lakenheath pack, Cchuy has now been adopted by Staff Sgt. Ben Kaupp, 48th SFS MWD handler, and his family.

“I started working with Cchuy in April 2022,” said Kaupp. “I discovered he’s a very energetic and compassionate dog. Typically, MWDs work for their reward, but he’s the type of dog who works more for his handler’s praise – obviously he values his reward, but he’s a very affectionate dog and loves to work. Aside from those qualities, which are obviously a huge factor, we saw an opportunity to adopt him and knew without question he was going to come home with us.

“Any time I walk into the kennels, all the dogs go nuts as they think they’re going to get pulled to work; but Cchuy’s eyes are just locked onto me, begging me to go out and train, and begging for that interaction,” he said. “It makes going to work every day that much more enjoyable, because you know there’s a dog waiting for you to come and work with them. Every day brings something new, whether it’s something we’re training to do together, or fixing a deficiency, we’re both constantly learning and growing together. Just like us, they have their ‘down’ days too – there are days when I can tell he’s not really with it, but you have to recognize that as a handler and say, ‘Hey, I know you’re tired buddy, but we’ve gotta work through this,’ and give them that verbal encouragement whenever they’re having their off days.”

Kaupp added that it’s also sometimes the case that if handlers are having an off day, their K9 partner might be on their A-game.

“It really is like Yin and Yang, and makes being a handler that much more enjoyable. The biggest thing with him is how loyal he is and how much he’s willing to work and protect his handler. You can tell with him that he doesn’t just love his job, he also loves whoever is behind the leash – he and I definitely have a special bond,” remarked Kaupp.

During his time at RAF Lakenheath, Cchuy amassed more than 5,900 in all-weather specialized explosive search, deterrence and intruder detection operations, to provide a safe and secure environment for the mission accomplishment of the 48th Fighter Wing. His many accomplishments include providing critical threat mitigation capabilities in support of King Charles III’s coronation and helping bolster vital relationships with important allies. He also

facilitated the success of numerous missions in support of the U.S. Secret Service while protecting the President of the United States, other congressional dignitaries and foreign heads of state.

Cchuy retired due to medical issues.

Ukkie is now home in Virginia with Santos.

Both, now-retired, military working dogs were presented certificates by Lt. Col. Ben Washburn, 48th SFS commander, including a Meritorious Service Medal, along with a Certificate of Retirement signed by the Secretary of the Air Force, as handlers read the poem, “Guardians of the Night.”

After the official ceremony, Ukkie and Cchuy received a huge round of ap-paws and were treated to a long line of eager people waiting to finally pet the dogs, offer treats and give a whole heap of puppy love.