Some of my earliest remembrances are just of me being surrounded by movement, but it was all in the dark. The movement seemed familiar, like somehow, they were connected to me. I remember the motions and muffled sounds. Then, one day, things began to get constrained, and my movement wasn’t so easy, but I still felt at peace.
Then one day there was a change and the activity seem to increase and I felt myself being thrust out into the cold. There was warmth touching my skin in different places and at different times. I still couldn’t see but I could hear, and there seemed to be space around me with the sounds of whimpering. Yet those same things next to me were something familiar that I had known before in the dark. Then feeling hungry – something I had never felt before, yet I found a place where I could go and sate that empty feeling in my belly. Yeah, I had to struggle sometimes with those around me to gain that nourishment, but I was getting stronger.
Then one day there seemed to be brightness, something I had never experienced before, and a new world opened up around me. Through blurry eyes, I saw that there were little beings near me and a much larger one. I saw for the first time the source of the food that I had been getting and it seemed to be a larger version of the ones that were around me. I became aware that these beings were my siblings and that the source of the nourishment was my mother. We also lived in a household with much larger beings and later came to know that they were our humans that I would soon care about and love.
As I grew, this group began to show me ways of protecting each other, ways of protecting the larger beings, until one day I was sent off to what I later learned was a training school. There I learned various things about how to protect these humans who I eventually came to care for. Learning how to sense danger, learning how to sense the enemy, learning to obey the commands of the human that I was assigned to. Mentally and physically, I grew stronger and stronger each day, becoming more and more capable of doing the things that I’d been taught to do. Understanding the good things and the bad things. Learning how to excel at the job that I was doing.
The school ended and I graduated with honors at the top of my class. I was assigned to a handler named Jake. I loved Jake with all my heart, and Jake loved me with all of his. We ended up being assigned all over the world in various combat areas where, on a day-to-day basis, we were involved in protecting our friends, alerting them to danger, and attacking the enemy. My days were spent in continual training and on being high alert.
Life was great because I had a purpose. I had a reason for being and I was good at my job. Year after year, Jake and I deployed and were inseparable. Together, we prevented hundreds if not thousands of bad things from happening.
Then one day something changed. Jake seemed to get sad and he was hugging me a lot and said nice things to me. He told me repeatedly what a great job I’d done, but that it was time for me to retire. I didn’t understand what the word “retirement” meant. Jake put me in my crate and took me to an airplane and they loaded me with the cargo. I was so confused. Why was Jake leaving me? He had been with me most of my life. The last thing I saw was him crying as the cargo door closed.
When we landed quite sometime later they brought me into a facility where I was evaluated and medically checked and kept in a holding area for a long time. I was depressed because I missed Jake and the job we did together. Then one day, a new group of humans came to see me. They had children and they all seemed to love me.
A few weeks later they came back and had a leash–they took me with them to their home. They were a nice family and loved me very much and I loved them but something was missing. Part of what I was missing was Jake, but it was more than that. They told me that this was now my home and where I could be retired and do whatever I wanted to do. But this made no sense to me. All I had ever known was the mission. What kind of mission was this? To do whatever I wanted to do? Lay around all day in the sun? For seven years I had been working with Jake saving lives, protecting people, and finding the bad guys.
Now I just felt empty. Yeah, that’s the word. Empty. I had all this skill, all this training, all this capability, and I had been raised for this purpose my whole life. And now when I see the things happening on TV where bad people are doing bad things and I know that I could help stop them. I know in my heart that I still have the skills and the abilities.
But I’m told that I’m retired. “Retired” is not a mission. “Retired” is not a purpose. Yes, I love my family and they are wonderful people. But I’m empty. You can’t just take someone and train them, make them capable, give them skills, give them strength, and then just tell them it’s over. Thanks for your service, enjoy your retirement, you’ve earned it.
If you haven’t figured it out already, I’m not really talking about a military working dog. People say, “Well you have to find a new purpose.” That’s easier said than done. Sitting here in my little office looking out on a bright sunshiny early spring day and watching the world events unfolding around me.
I see the footage of the body cams from the Nashville school shooting, and I wonder why I’m sitting here. Perhaps that’s the curse of being an old dog, remembering the days when I was a young dog. Old men are supposed to have all the answers.
Guess what? I don’t.
Dave Chamberlin served 38 years in the USAF and Air National Guard as an aircraft crew chief, where he retired as a CMSgt. He has held a wide variety of technical, instructor, consultant, and leadership positions in his more than 40 years of civilian and military aviation experience. Dave holds an FAA Airframe and Powerplant license from the FAA, as well as a Master’s degree in Aeronautical Science. He currently runs his own consulting and training company and has written for numerous trade publications.
His true passion is exploring and writing about issues facing the military, and in particular, aircraft maintenance personnel.
As the Voice of the Veteran Community, The Havok Journal seeks to publish a variety of perspectives on a number of sensitive subjects. Unless specifically noted otherwise, nothing we publish is an official point of view of The Havok Journal or any part of the U.S. government.