Air Force Staff Sgt. Mike Alcala struggled in 2021 when his duties shifted and he was no longer working with a bomb-sniffing German shepherd named John.
The two had worked together for three years at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii. In an interview with Morgan Chesky on TODAY Dec. 22 , Alcala said that when his skills were needed elsewhere, he had to part ways with his canine colleague.
“Leaving him was rough,” Alcala said. “It was definitely hard. Think about your dog at home if you have one. Imagine just walking out the door and just leaving them to someone else. It’s very sad, but you know they’re going to be in good hands.”
However, as they were being separated, Alcala made a promise.
“I told them when I was leaving there, I said, ‘I am coming back for this dog,'” Alcala said.
That magical moment came recently when John was relieved from active duty after eight years of service and went to live out his golden years with Alcala and his family in Texas.
They had a sweet reunion in the backyard of Alcala’s home as his wife, Brittany, and their 10-month-old daughter, Avery, welcomed the newest addition to their family just in time for the holidays.
“Oh look at you!” Alcala told John as he playfully scratched his ears. “How you doing Bubbas? I missed you bud. Welcome home buddy.”
The two formed a tight bond during their time patrolling the base and the local community in Hawaii. They even traveled abroad with White House officials to sniff out any explosives.
“I trust him with everything I have, and with my life, for sure,” Alcala said. “You have to, because these are our partners.”
“I instantly trusted John with his life,” Brittany said.
John continued to serve on the island after Alcala’s duties changed. Once Alcala learned the 10-year-old German shepherd was retiring from service, he went straight to his wife to see if they could take the dog into their home.
She only had one request.
“Gotta fix the backyard,” she said.
John was honored during a retirement ceremony on the Hawaiian base that included a special reading of the poem “Guardians of the Night,” which is dedicated to military working dogs. John played with a toy during the festivities until realizing all that applause was for him.
The canine then made the journey from Hawaii to Texas accompanied by a handler from the American Humane organization. The hard-working pooch was celebrated by fellow passengers on his flight.
“On behalf of American Airlines, please join me in welcoming John on board and express our gratitude,” a flight attendant said over the intercom to applause for John.
Then came the sweet reunion with Alcala, who scratched John’s belly in appreciation of having an old friend back after years apart.
“It’s amazing,” he said.
It was a small glimpse at his final mission — being a beloved member of the Alcala family.