Team Dover honors Vietnam War Military Working Dog

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Dieondiere Jefferies
  • 436th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

Dogs are said to be man’s best friend, but they can be much more than just a companion. The 436th Security Forces Squadron recently honored one such companion during a memorial service at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, July 10, 2023.

For one U.S. Air Force veteran, his dog was more than just a friend–he was family. During the Vietnam War, retired Staff Sgt. Mark Smoot served as a security forces member with his Military Working Dog, Jake OX14. Smoot and MWD Jake specialized in patrols and detection.

“Out there I learned everything I needed to know about survival, literally, from my dog because he saw things I didn't,” said Smoot. “He heard things I didn't and he could smell things I didn't. You learned real quick to trust your dog.”

Jake was a seasoned MWD, beginning his deployment to Vietnam in 1968. During the Vietnam War, MWDs stayed in the country permanently.

“Mr. Smoot returned home [from Vietnam] and [still] has severe PTSD over leaving his dog, any of us would,” said Senior Airman Courtney Burns, 436th SFS MWD handler. “They’re our children, and we would do anything for them. Asking someone to leave their child in a foreign place never to be seen again is a hard ask.”

Smoot left Vietnam, but Jake stayed.The traumatic event left Smoot emotionally hurt. The duo had spent a year working together, developing an inseparable bond. After Smoot’s departure from Vietnam, he kept Jake at the forefront of his mind.

“I stayed in touch with some of the handlers and learned from them that my dog passed away two years after I left the country,” said Smoot. “What that dog did for me…is the reason I get so upset when I think about him being left behind.”

The bond between handlers and MWDs is a very strong and irreplaceable connection. The handlers view their dogs as family. Leaving family over in a combat zone is painful and can be tough to deal with. 

“Our job was to take care of [the dogs],” said Smoot. “[The dog’s] job was to take care of us, and together our job was to take care of everyone else.”

The memorial service, which included speeches from military members, military honors and the presentation of the flag to Smoot, finally gave him a chance to honor his fallen comrade after so many years. 

“We honored MWD Jake on Monday in the way he should be, because most Vietnam vets were not welcomed home,” said Burns. 

The 436th SFS is part of a tight-knit community of defenders consisting of Airmen from across the globe in the same career field. Burns emphasized Smoot will always be part of the team as a retired security forces member.
“We are just so incredibly happy and thankful that we are able to provide [Smoot] some form of comfort after all these years,” said Burns. “We can only hope [the ceremony]  has given [Smoot] the peace and the solace he was looking for after all this time.”