50 years later Mark Smoot still sees Jake when he closes his eyes at night
Mark Smoot was just a 19-year-old kid fresh out of Military Working Dog training with the 341st Training Squadron at Lackland AFB, San Antonio, Texas when he first touched down at Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Air Force Base (NKP) .
Growing up in Roanoke, Virginia, Mark had known from an early age that he wanted to serve and his family played a big part in that decision. His dad and uncles had served in the Army as had other close relatives. “I did it because I thought it was the right thing to do.” reflected Mark. As a young man, Mark had his sights set on becoming a cop. Being a police officer seemed cool to him as he thought he would get instant respect, authority, and get to serve the public. Mark decided he would outsmart the draft board and enlist through the Airforce under a delayed entrance program called \”Project Guarantee” which would allow him to be a military cop upon completing his training.
After reporting in August 16, 1970, Mark was attending training when someone came in to talk to the class about the K9 program and asked if there was anyone interested in pursing K9 training. Mark’s hand shot up; he knew this was what he wanted to do. Mark excelled at his Military Working Dog training, with the help of his K9 training partner Sarge S454, Mark was proud to say “He led me through the Patrol Dog course. As class leader he and I both graduated with honors.”
In 1971 Mark shipped off to Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Air Force Base (NKP). The Thai Air Force Base was used by the USAF as a front-line facility in the United States\’ efforts to defend South Vietnam from North Vietnamese insurgents and Laotian guerrillas due to NKP’s strategic location hugging the shores of the Mekong River. Mark and his soon to be assigned K9 partner would have the dangerous duty of patrolling the perimeter, often at night, and Mark was going to need a partner with far keener senses that his own to alert him to any dangers lurking in the dark. Mark needed a dog he could trust with his life and the lives he was assigned to protect. He needed a dog that was fierce, protective and loyal. What Mark didn’t know is he was soon to find a dog that would become his best friend and confidante.
Mark met with the Kennel Master; it was time for him to find his partner. Mark wanted a challenge, “I didn’t want a go-along, get-along dog.” stated Mark, “I told the Kennel Master, ‘Give me the meanest dog you’ve got.’ He looked me up and down and said ‘Get him Crazy Jake\’ That dog would chase the devil back to hell and that was exactly what I was looking for. That dog had no fear.”
“Jake only challenged me once, and that was it, after that we were partners, and I knew he trusted me completely. One day, when I was talking to another airman and I could feel the full weight of Jake leaning right up against my leg, I knew then we were a team, and this was my dog. I trusted Jake and Jake trusted me.”
“If I was looking in one direction, Jake would look in the opposite direction, he was always on the lookout. One day it struck me, this dog, he had been in country for a long time before I got there and he was going to stay when I got to leave, but Jake, he was never going to get to go home.” Marks voice cracked with emotion while he was telling this.
While Mark was serving during Vietnam, he saw 5 dogs that were stationed at NKP die, mostly from tropical disease and conditions, even though the dogs received great military care, the environment was tough on these dogs.
When Mark was ordered stateside in 1972, the hardest thing for him was leaving Jake behind. There was no option at that time for a handler to take their partner home with them. Now, if a dog is close to retirement, the handler will often take the dog home to live out its life but that wasn’t the case back in the 1970’s. “The hardest thing I have ever done was look at Jake’s face when I was walking away. I still see him behind the kennel fence looking at me like \’Where are you going Mark, how come you are leaving me?\’ If I could say anything to Jake now, it would to just let him know he was a good dog, and how much I loved him. I would want him to know how sorry I was that he never got to come home. I carry his picture with me every day. I just never knew it was possible to love a dog as much as I loved Jake.”
Jake died thousands of miles away from his New York birthplace at the age of 7 and Mark misses him every day. Mark now lives in Johnstown, PA with his wife and several dogs and he is an active member of Team Rubicon and, along with his dogs, has worked on several rescue and recovery situations.
Lend a hand to our hard-working K9 troops
MAF receives many requests from troops downrange who find us through word of mouth, talking to other troops who received support packages. When our K9 teams ask us for help, we rely on you to step up.
|Military K9 handlers often reach out to us on behalf of their beloved dogs these fierce warriors are highly trained in specialized combat roles and are instrumental in sniffing out IEDs, bomb making materials, patrolling, and standing guard. It\’s as dangerous for these K9\’s as it is for our soldiers, especially in the harsh environment of Afghanistan. IED\’s threaten our troops as well as the local Afghan civilians, so every bomb found by a K9 warrior means innocent lives are saved!|
|Here\’s a list of what the troops and K9s get when you sponsor a K9 care package!|
KONG chew toy! Gourmet coffee, premium beef jerky, Girl Scout cookies, Oreo cookies, trail mix bags, Blue Diamond almonds and other mixed nuts, baby wipes, granola/protein bars, gum and mints, sunflower seeds, hot chocolate/cider, deodorant, toothpaste, toothbrushes, foot cream/powder, SPF ChapStick, SPF sunscreen, boot socks, magazines and books, playing cards, phone calling cards, hygiene packs, M&M’s, Snickers, Skittles and other assorted treats, 5-hour ENERGY shots, headphones, eye drops, Tylenol/Advil, handwritten messages from school children and other supporters***Every box also includes a special, personal message FROM YOU***
Home Depot Foundation comes through with Operation Suprise!
In the heat of our Christmas rush, MAF was blessed to have amazing volunteers from our local Carmichael, CA Home Depot come in to pack boxes like pros. The Home Depot crew came equip to do the job and as a surprise bonus they presented MAF with huge check to help ensure our troop wouldn\’t go empty handed.
We spoke with Cody Holstrom, the Carmichael Home Depot assistant manager and Cody wanted us to know just how excited and eager they were to lend a hand. Home Depot has a reputation for supporting our veterans and military. They were especially thrilled to find a local military charity they could not only assist financially but also physically come in to our facility and actually take part in assembling packages for the very troops they were supporting. According to Cody, \”Just to roll up our sleeves and help get packages ready for shipping, knowing that some soldier far away would soon be opening that package, wow, that just feels so good, so humbling. It\’s just a small thing we can do, but it feels good.\”
Jeff, the store Manager, and Cody and the entire crew really showed us just how special those Home Depot team members are. Even with the busy holiday rush, they still made time to help out our troops.
Cheers to a New Year!
Move America Forward wants to thank you and your family for supporting us through a very challenging year . We hope you have enjoyed being a part of our organization and look forward to a successful 2021 as we continue our mission of supporting our troops.
Even with the Covid pandemic raging, our dedicated staff and volunteers did everything in our power to make sure our troops would enjoy a long-distance hug from home in the form of a care package from home and a special message of support. We were busy as ever packing and mailing and answering requests from our troops far and wide. We just couldn\’t have done it without your help. So even with this Christmas being unlike any we have seen before, we still manages to make it a special one for our deployed troops.
We wanted to take a moment to share some of our recent photos of our hard working troops, volunteers and staff and all things that make MAF the largest grassroots support network for our deployed troops.