Staff Sgt. Marcus Reaves, a military working dog handler in the 78th Security Forces Squadron’s military working dog section here, was deployed to Iraq with his canine partner, Arras, when his dog was killed Sept. 25 in the line of duty.
Arras, a 5-year-old Dutch shepherd explosives detector and patrol dog temporarily assigned to the 447th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron and Joint Operations at Sather Air Base, Iraq, died when he was electrified by power cables during a search for weapons and explosives in a building.
The unit honored Arras with a memorial service at the deployed location Oct. 19, and officials at Robins AFB plan to host a memorial service for Arras later this year.
Sergeant Reaves, who had worked with Arras for six months out of 18 months the dog served with his unit, said Sept. 25 started like most days, with a fun-loving game of tug-of-war with his K-9 partner.
“Before I did anything with him, I petted him on top of his head and asked him if he was ready to go to work, and he gave me this look like, ‘Let’s do it,'” Sergeant Reaves said. “So, I sent him off to work and we were going through clearing buildings. One building we got to was fairly dark, so I didn’t want to send him in to the point where I couldn’t see him.”
As the military working dog handler bent down to pick up his flashlight, his faithful partner entered what would be his last mission. Sergeant Reaves was knocked unconscious by the explosion and thrown nearly 30 feet from the site. But, his partner was in a much worse condition.
“I didn’t know what was going on,” Sergeant Reaves said. “When I came to, as a handler my first instinct was, ‘Where’s my dog?’ I looked all around. I knew the medics were talking to me, but I was just like, ‘I don’t care what y’all are talking about right now. I just need to find my dog.'”
Arras died in the explosion. Sergeant Reaves sustained minor injuries and has since recovered.
When faced with the realization that Arras was gone, Sergeant Reaves said it was more than he could handle.
“It was like my world had stopped then and there,” he said.
Sergeant Reaves said Arras was more than a means for finding danger. He was a comfort in the midst of danger.
“The military likes to consider these dogs (as) equipment, and we as handlers try to stay in that mentality,” he said. “Yeah, they’re equipment and anything could happen at any time. But, when we deploy, those dogs stay with us. We feed them, water them and bring them out to play. When we don’t have anyone to talk to, the dog is always right there.”
Other 78th SFS members shared the feeling of loss. Staff Sgt. Edward Canell, the 78th SFS trainer who trained with Arras, said losing Arras was like losing a human member of the squadron.
“It’s just like losing an Airman for us,” he said. “You’ve got to remember, these dogs don’t ask for anything in return — just a little bit of love and companionship and they’ll work for you. They never ask you why or ask you questions. They’re always there for you. So, it was hard when we heard we lost him.”
Sergeant Canell said Arras was a unique part of his military family.
“There’s certain stuff that we can’t do physically, where a dog’s nose can smell something that we can’t even come close to,” he said. “So, they’re very valuable and there are only a certain number of them. To lose one is a really big loss for us.”
Tech. Sgt. David Barber, the kennel master in the 78th SFS’ military working dog section, said Arras was just as much a source of protection stateside as he was in the deployed location.
From conducting bomb sweeps at local schools and businesses to supporting the president, vice president, and former President Jimmy Carter, Arras left paw prints on many areas, in the military and civilian community alike, Sergeant Barber said.
Sergeant Canell said he hopes others will see the importance of dogs like Arras.
“I hope that when people read this that they understand these aren’t just dogs or animals,” he said. “They’re members of our military force. They go out and put their lives on the line every day, not just in deployed locations, but also stateside. Everyone who works on base can have a safe feeling because these dogs are at the gate utilizing their noses and sniffing everything that comes through the gate.”
Sergeant Reaves said he’ll always remember his four-legged partner as courageous and dedicated.
“Arras was our best dog,” he said. “He loved his job. Whoever handled that leash, he loved them. He loved to work and when he was done, he wanted love for it. After he was done working, he was one of those dogs that would come back to you, lick you, wanted you to pet him, and wouldn’t leave you alone until you did. I wake up in the morning and of course I thank God for my still being around without being seriously injured. But, (Arras) is always in my thoughts.”