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Retired K-9 gets full military honors at memorial – The Daily Reporter

Kyle Hodges, left, and his fiance, Kaitlyn Magiera, watch as the Greenfield Veterans Honor Guard perform a memorial service for the couple’s dog, Sgt. Hoss, who had served alongside Hodges detecting explosives in Iraq.

GREENFIELD — A 21-gun salute rang out in the parking lot of the Stillinger Family Funeral Home in Greenfield on Friday, June 10, honoring a retired military K-9 who had crossed over the rainbow bridge.

The Greenfield Veterans Honor Guard gathered to honor Sgt. Hoss, a 13-year-old golden Labrador retriever who served two years sniffing out explosives in Iraq.

His handler — retired combat engineer Kyle Hodges, who served five years in the US Army — cried softly as a member of the honor guard knelt down before him to hand him a neatly folded American flag, commending the dog for his service to his country.

“(Sgt. Hoss) is a veteran, and all veterans are the same. He deserves to be honored this way,” said Don Carson, a member of the honor guard who served in the US Marine Corps from 1969-72.

David Stillinger, who owns the funeral home where the memorial took place, agreed.

“This dog did something special serving in Iraq. He and Kyle were inseparable,” said Stillinger, who is acquainted with Hodges’ fiance, Kaitlyn Magiera.

After the 21-gun salute and the playing of Taps in the parking lot, Hodges, Magiera and a small group of friends returned to a visitation room where a large portrait of Sgt. Hoss — seeming to smile with his big brown eyes accented by his golden yellow coat — sat next to a draped American flag. In front of that sat a small, furry squeak toy in the form of a hedgehog.

“That was his baby. He loved that thing and would groom it and take care of it,” said Hodges, 26. “It only felt right that it would be part of the ceremony and be cremated with him.”

Before settling down into the quiet life with Hodges at his home in Castleton, Sgt. Hoss was a hero — saving countless lives while sniffing out explosives in Iraq from 2016-17, with Hodges by his side.

The golden lab “picked” Hodges to be his partner while they were training at Fort Campbell, at the border of Kentucky and Tennessee.

“Much like with police K-9s, you go to K-9 handling school and a dog will pick his handler by showing who he’s most comfortable with, who he responds to the best,” Hodges said.

“(Sgt. Hoss) was very open to anybody, but his body language was different with me. He seemed to stay pretty alert, and whenever I would have to clean his kennel he was kind of more excited to see me than any of the other handlers.

It was a match made in heaven.

After meeting and training in 2015 at Fort Campbell, Hodges and Sgt. Hoss would spend the next two years seeking out explosives in war-torn Iraq.

“It was pretty incredible considering that retired K-9s for the military are not viewed as personnel, but as equipment. If a military K-9 dies overseas, they will receive an honorable service, but once that K-9 is retired they’re given to a civilian or retired veteran or their handler and are considered a family dog ​​at that point, so they don ‘t receive any form of honors at all.”

Hodges said he’ll be forever thankful for Stillinger contacting the veterans honor guard to memorialize Sgt. Hoss.

The funeral director pulled the ceremony together within hours after the beloved Labrador died unexpectedly Thursday night from an undetected tumor on his spleen that ruptured around his abdomen.

While Hodges has four more dogs at home, he says none will ever replace the dog he served with in Iraq.

“After he was retired, he ended up being certified as my emotional support animal for (post-traumatic stress disorder) and depression,” said the retired soldier. “He’d go anywhere and everywhere with me.”

At his memorial service, Hodges and his fiance shared their favorite memories of Sgt. Hoss and spoke of the tight bond the lovable lab had with Magiera.

“She’d go to the bathroom and he’d face out and guard her. If she was in the bedroom, he was in the bedroom. If she got up and left, he’d follow her,” Hodges fondly recalled, but it was Hodges that Sgt. Hoss preferred to snuggle up next to at night.

Nothing could ever replace the unbreakable bond between the dog and the man who served together in Iraq, where Hodges led Sgt. Hoss around on a 40-foot leash as the highly trained K-9 sniffed out danger time and time again.

“He’d smell it whether it was gunpowder or explosives, often hidden in a building that we couldn’t see or detect without metal detection,” said Hodges.

“His nose replaced countless devices to find (explosives) and ensure safe passage (for soldiers). I have no doubt saved many, many lives.”

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