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An Airman's best friend

Staff Sgt. Justin Paczensy, 325th Security Forces military working dog handler, poses for a photo with MWD Mica Jan. 11, at the public affairs studio. Military working dog Mica retired from active duty Feb. 19, after a post-deployment medical check revealed she had an aggressive form of cancer. Mica was later adopted by Maj. Mari Metzler, 325th Aerospace Medical Squadron aerospace physiology flight commander. (Courtesy photo)

Staff Sgt. Justin Paczesny, 325th Security Forces military working dog handler, poses for a photo with MWD Mica Jan. 11, at the public affairs studio. Military working dog Mica retired from active duty Feb. 19, after a post-deployment medical check revealed she had an aggressive form of cancer. Mica was later adopted by Maj. Mari Metzler, 325th Aerospace Medical Squadron aerospace physiology flight commander. (Courtesy photo)

TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- Military working dogs are referred to by several names at the 325th Security Forces Squadron: guardians of the night, their enemies' worst nightmare, but mainly - a man's best friend.

The working dogs and their handlers work in tandem, whether home or abroad, to protect resources and infrastructure wherever they may be. Just as when a service member retires, the dogs receive a retirement ceremony with full honors. And Feb. 19, Military Working Dog Mica attended her ceremony, the reason for her retirement - cancer.

"The average working dogs career is about 10 years," said Staff Sgt. Justin Paczesny, 325th Security Forces Squadron military working dog handler. "I have been working with Mica for three years. When we returned from our last deployment the post-deployment health check revealed an aggressive form of cancer. When I found out she was sick, I cried - I cried; there's no shame about it. We spent three years together on the road, she kept me safe and I kept her safe."

"I can't say enough about her, she's my best friend. It's hard to explain the feeling. When you spend a countless number of hours with the dog, building a bound, and you find out she's sick; I am just very relieved she is going to a loving home," Paczesny added.

During the ceremony, the highlights of Mica's career were read out loud as the dog and her handler stood center stage. At the conclusion of the retirement Mica received a plaque, medal and her final meal as a service member - beef tips.

Military Working Dog Mica, now retired, will be starting her civilian life at the home of Maj. Mari Metzler, 325th Aerospace Medical Squadron aerospace physiology flight commander.

"Even though Mica has a new handler, I will still be in contact with her," Paczesny said.  "Major Metzler really understands the bond we have and is allowing me to come by and see Mica. I plan on using this opportunity to spend time with Mica and also help her new owner with training the dog. Of course MWDs have an advantage in the areas of obedience, but I will help her new owner with commands and how to interact with Mica."

Within the 325th SFS the military working dog section serves a specific need. The military working dog program is a Department of Defense program. The dogs are procured from Germany and then shipped to Joint Base Lackland, Texas. From there they are trained for all DoD assets and sent to their first duty station.

"The purpose of the MWD section is to provide a physiological and physical deterrent for those that would try to come and harm the people and assets of the base," said Staff Sgt. Billy Lofton, 325th SFS military working dog handler.  "As dog handlers we go in first, if there are drugs or explosives present the dogs investigate to ensure the safety of personnel."

Sticking to one of Tyndall's missions to take care of Airmen and their families, Mica will forever be a member of the 325th SFS, and will be missed.

"I miss her already. It is unfortunate that I could not adopt Mica myself, but I do know that she is going to a good loving home and I am sure that she will be enjoying her retirement," Paczensy said.