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Vandenberg to host military working horses' retirement

Willy and Judge, of the 30th Security Forces working horse unit, are retired by Lt. Col. Michelle Stringer, the 30th SFS commander, during a ceremony at Missile V here Monday, March 14, 2011.  (U.S. Air Force photo/1st. Lt. Ann Blodzinski)

Willy and Judge, of the 30th Security Forces working horse unit, are retired by Lt. Col. Michelle Stringer, the 30th SFS commander, during a ceremony at Missile V here Monday, March 14, 2011. (U.S. Air Force photo/1st. Lt. Ann Blodzinski)

Military Working Horses Judge and Willie retired March 14, 2011 here.  Vandenberg is currently the only Air Force base with Military Working Horses.  The horses are used for patrolling, search and rescue, crowd control and surveillance.  (U.S. Air Force photo/1st. Lt. Ann Blodzinski)

Military Working Horses Judge and Willie retired March 14, 2011 here. Vandenberg is currently the only Air Force base with Military Working Horses. The horses are used for patrolling, search and rescue, crowd control and surveillance. (U.S. Air Force photo/1st. Lt. Ann Blodzinski)

Col. Richard Boltz, the 30th Space Wing commander, meets military working horse Judge and his handler 2nd. Lt. Joshua Trayers, of the 30th Security Forces Squadron, during his retirement ceremony at Missile V here Monday, March 14, 2011. Military working horses Willy and Judge retire after a combined 35 years in military service. (U.S. Air Force photo/1st. Lt. Ann Blodzinski)

Col. Richard Boltz, the 30th Space Wing commander, meets military working horse Judge and his handler 2nd. Lt. Joshua Trayers, of the 30th Security Forces Squadron, during his retirement ceremony at Missile V here Monday, March 14, 2011. Military working horses Willy and Judge retire after a combined 35 years in military service. (U.S. Air Force photo/1st. Lt. Ann Blodzinski)

Leading a last salute for Military Working Horses Judge and Willy,  Lt. Col. Michelle Stringer, the 30th Security Forces Squadron commander, ushers the horses into retirement at a ceremony at Missile V here Monday, March 14, 2011. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Lael Huss)

Leading a last salute for Military Working Horses Judge and Willy, Lt. Col. Michelle Stringer, the 30th Security Forces Squadron commander, ushers the horses into retirement at a ceremony at Missile V here Monday, March 14, 2011. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Lael Huss)

Willy and Judge, of the 30th Security Forces working horse unit, are retired by Lt. Col. Michelle Stringer, the 30th SFS commander, during a ceremony at Missile V here Monday, March 14, 2011. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Lael Huss)

Willy and Judge, of the 30th Security Forces working horse unit, are retired by Lt. Col. Michelle Stringer, the 30th SFS commander, during a ceremony at Missile V here Monday, March 14, 2011. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Lael Huss)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- The ideal retirement might go something like this (cue dreamy music): First off, there would be a big ceremony with a good turnout including leadership and distinguished visitors in attendance. Everyone would stand at attention as the retiree receives medals commemorating a long and fruitful time in service. Some might even shed a tear. After that would be retirement on a ranch, enjoying the peace of nature and the company of long-time friends. Food would be catered every meal and everyone would be treated like royalty. All of the retirees there would be sure to help out with the community when they could. Most people would probably be more than satisfied with that type of retirement, as would most horses.

On March 14, military working horses Judge and Willie will experience that leisurely dream-come-true ceremony as they retire from Vandenberg's 30th Security Forces Squadron at Missile V here after a combined 32 years of service. They will live out their days at the Jack Auchterlonie Memorial Equine Sanctuary located in Twentynine Palms with their already retired brothers and sisters (Duke, Sarge, Alamo and Lady Justice). Once there, Judge and Willie will assist in activities ranging from equine therapy for disabled individuals to rehabilitation of other horses that are brought into the sanctuary.

"Twenty years ago Judge was assigned to Howard Air Force Base, Panama, where he worked with the Drug Enforcement Agency on counterdrug missions and patrolled the installation's jungle perimeter looking for trespassers," said Staff Sgt. Andrea Lewis, a 30th SFS mounted patrolman. "When the Air Force closed Howard in 1999, Judge joined Willie at Vandenberg - making Vandenberg the only base with a mounted horse unit in the entire Air Force."

For the past 12 years the duo has played numerous and vital roles in base operations to include search and rescue operations; patrols into base territory that even all terrain vehicles cannot access; consequence management for protests; maintaining a security forces and conservation presence during hunting season; pre-launch sweeps; and beach patrols. They also contributed to the bust of an off-base marijuana grow that prevented $3 million of illegal drugs from reaching the streets. Furthermore, they are trained in criminal pursuit and attainment. Needless to say, these are two incredible animals.

Vandenberg purchased six new horses last summer to fill the shoes of Judge and Willy.

"First and foremost, you have to build trust on the ground," said Sergeant Lewis. "Once that trust is established the trainers can teach the horses the unique set of skills needed to be a military working horse. The younger horses are already hard at work, patrolling anywhere from two to five hours at a time."

The team of four security forces members assigned to the mounted horse unit plan to expand the program to include 12-20 horses with as many riders. They are also putting efforts toward getting top-notched outside training for both the riders and the horses. One 30th SFS member is even being sent to farrier school and there is talk about bringing out riding legend Stacie Westfall to work with the unit.

Anyone interested in the program is welcome to come out to the Hoyt S. Vandenberg Saddle Club to volunteer to help with the horses and learn the ins-and-outs of the equine world.

Judge and Willie have set high standards for the rookies of the mounted patrol with their own extraordinary service. Their upcoming ideal retirement is a fitting and much-deserved end to their remarkable careers.