I graduated high school in June 1967, and later that summer, I enlisted in the US Air Force. I entered active duty service in February of 1968, and received my Basic Training at Lackland Air Force Base, in San Antonio, Texas. After my basic training, I was assigned to attend Air Force Security Police School, also at Lackland. During Security Police school, my classmates and I were introduced to a new program called the USAF Sentry Dog program, which trained Air Force Security Policemen (no women in the program at that time) to work with Sentry Dogs. I volunteered, and at the completion of Security Police School, I was accepted into the program.

After taking a couple of weeks leave to go home and visit family and friends I returned to Lackland AFB to start Sentry Dog School. My class consisted of twenty new airmen like me. We received several days of classroom training on how to work with, and take care of our German Shepherd dogs, and then were taken to the kennels area and introduced to what would become our new partners. The Sergeant told me I would be working with a dog named Rebel, Serial number 7M98. I was told to go find his kennel, and introduce myself.

This was one of the greatest experiences in my life, the day I met Rebel.

I found Rebel’s kennel in the middle of a long row of excited, barking German Shepherd dogs, all chained out and lunging at their new visitors. Rebel was a good looking pup, about 18 months old, and, had all the color and markings of a pure-breed German Shepherd dog. German Shepherds are a naturally cautious breed of animal, and tend to be suspicious of any new people. We had been cautioned by our instructors not to go right up to the dogs, but to talk with them for a bit and let them get to know us before moving into range of those shiny and rather sharp dog’s teeth… Rebel and I got to know each other fairly quickly, and he was soon sniffing the back of my hand, and allowing me to touch his head and to pet him.

Animal training commenced the next day, and the new dogs and new handlers learned to know each other and to give and understand commands. We handlers were taught how to walk, march, run and to move in formation with our dogs and with other handlers. We were taught to command our dogs to patrol and search an area for potential hostiles, and to allow the dog to attack, both on-leash and off, if it was necessary to subdue an intruder or neutralize a potential threat. More training included use of weapons and controlling the animal, both on and off-leash during all kinds of activities. After eight weeks of intensive training for both dogs and handlers, our class stood a formal parade for graduation, and I was surprised that Rebel and I were chosen as Honor Graduates for our class! I’m sure it was more because of Rebel then of me, but I accepted the award for both of us.

The next day, we learned that Rebel and I were going to ship out as a team, along with twenty other dogs, handlers, support and administrative personnel, to a fairly new Air Force Base in Thailand. A few weeks later we were loading dogs into shipping crates and hauling them to the military airfield near Lackland, where we all loaded into the belly of a C-141 and took off on a milk-run that eventually landed us on the runway of Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base.

For the next year, Rebel and I spent almost every night together, patrolling the jungle perimeters of the base and the munitions storage depot which was located about 10 miles off-base. When it was hot, he drank water from my canteen. When it rained, he tried to stay dry under my poncho. When it was time for play, he was happy to chase a tennis ball just like any other pet dog, but he was always on alert at my command, and I would like to think that we kept each other safe while we both worked to keep our post and our military installation secure during some of the most critical times of the Vietnam war.

Shortly before my 12-month tour was up, we found out that the sentry dogs that had been imported into Thailand would not be returned to the States. That meant that I would have to say goodbye to my buddy, and he would partner with another handler after I left. It was a hard thing to do, but I was eager to get back to the “Land of the Big BX.” Rebel and I parted company in the fall of 1969. I later found out that Rebel worked with three other handlers during his relatively short military service, and that he, like all the other military working dogs assigned to duty in Thailand, were humanely put to sleep and buried near the kennels where they lived.

I continued my service in the Air Force, and retired with more than 20 years active duty, in 1988. I continued to work with Military Working Dogs, and helped to retrain several dogs from Sentry Dogs to Patrol Dogs and Drug Detectors when the program changed in the 1970’s. Of all the military dogs I have known, I remember Rebel 7M98 as the best, and I hope one day to return to Ubon, Thailand to visit his grave. Until then, Rest In Peace, ol’ buddy.

John from NV

One Response

  1. Diane from California Says:

    John, thank you and God bless you for your service. I have three sons in the military, so I do not say that lightly. I have strong memories of seeing patrol dogs on the news during the war when I was a kid. I didn’t know what happened to them until recently when I read a book about one soldier’s struggle to save his dog. Your memory of your outstanding dog is a beautiful and fitting tribute. Rebel was a hero. Thanks for telling his story.