Hill AFB airmen pay final tribute to four-legged comrade in arms
HILL AIR FORCE BASE — For members of the U.S. military — whose jobs, when boiled down to the most basic essence, are to fight wars — the undercurrent of death is perpetual.
And it goes without saying that when soldiers lose a comrade in arms, it can be life-altering for the survivors. Even when that comrade happens to have four legs.
In June, a retired military working dog from Hill Air Force Base was honored during an “end of watch” ceremony in front of a gathering of family and fellow airmen from the 75th Security Forces Squadron. In a news release, Hill Chief of Internal Information Rich Essary said the 116-pound Belgian Malinois named Cvoky — pronounced “See-vokee” — had been suffering from lymphoma cancer for months and the decision was made to euthanize the animal, which happened after the ceremony.
Essary said an end-of-watch radio call is a tradition to honor fallen law enforcement and is also commonly given to military working dogs. During the June ceremony, a radio call was transmitted on base, which included some of the following: “Control to military working dog Cvoky … all units, all departments, military working dog Cvoky has answered the highest call. All units, all departments, military working dog Cvoky has answered the final call. Godspeed Cvoky.”
Cvoky served the U.S. Air Force from 2014 to 2021, when he was medically retired in March. He was later adopted by his handler, Staff Sgt. Juan Reyes. Essary said that during his career, Cvoky patrolled Hill, responded to threats off base and overseas, and even provided support to the Secret Service. In 2020, he and Reyes were awarded the U.S. Air Force Achievement Medal for outstanding service in Operation Inherent Resolve and Operation Freedom Sentinel.
Reyes says it’s hard to find the right words to describe the relationship he had with Cvoky.
“I didn’t just see him as a military working dog, I saw him as a partner, someone I could rely on and a best friend,” Reyes said. “I knew I could depend on him to find any real-world threat and he could depend on me to take care of him.”
Reyes said his dog had a quirky, sometimes aloof personality. Cvoky was known to ignore his handler for hours if the dog encountered something he deemed unacceptable, like getting his teethed brushed, or like the time he got kicked out of bed during an overseas deployment in Saudi Arabia.
“Since he was an abnormally large dog, I had to rearrange my room on a deployment (and) he could no longer lay in bed with me,” Reyes said. “He ignored me for three hours. Every time I’d call him, he’d look away.”
The Air Force’s military working dogs are bred and trained at the 341st Training Squadron, which is located at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio. According to the squadron’s website, MWDs can detect trace amounts of almost any substance, which makes them invaluable during combat missions where bombs are expected.
The dogs at Hill are trained to deploy and work in combat scenarios, but they also perform a variety of tasks on base — from responding to police calls and building alarms, to conducting random searches at base security gates, parking lots and dormitories.
The most common breed for MWDs are the German shepherd and the Belgian Malinois. Dogs that operate in military and security roles, whether it’s in the Army, Navy, Air Force or Marines, are either “single-purposed,” which means they’re trained only in detection, or “dual-purpose,” trained to both detect and bite. Normally at about 2 years old, the dogs are paired with a single individual, called the dog’s handler, following their training.
After his end of watch ceremony, Reyes paid Cvoky one final tribute, by taking him out for ice cream.
“He made my career,” Reyes said. “I wanted to make sure he was able to enjoy his last ride.”