TAMPA — The brown dog with the black face stood panting, his eyes darting around the room at dozens of faces and camera lenses. On one side of him was a U.S. Air Force flag. On the other, an American flag, and his handler, Staff Sgt. Shannon Hutto, who held tight to a leash secured to a harness bearing the words "K-9 Unit."
Friday was the last official day on the job for Eddie, the 5-year-old Belgian Malinois who, in his nearly half a decade as a military working dog, became one of the most famous faces at MacDill Air Force Base, earning the reputation of a hero.
His tour of duty included a deployment to Afghanistan, where he was credited with saving an entire platoon when he sniffed out two improvised explosive devices.
On Friday, Eddie the dog retired with full military honors that included a discharge ceremony, words of congratulations and scores of salutes from his brothers in arms in MacDill's 6th Security Forces Squadron.
"Sometimes I get emotional when I think about everything he has done," Hutto said. "He's the best partner I ever had."
Beyond his time in combat, Eddie's service included numerous security sweeps of government facilities. It also included 15 Secret Service missions as part of security provisions for the president and vice president.
But his most talked-about achievement came during his May 2012 deployment.
As Hutto recalls it, the incident came after a two-hour foot patrol near an Afghan village. With his legs and back aching, the staff sergeant hunkered down at the base of a tree to rest. When the platoon got the command to move out, Hutto stood, but Eddie stayed. The dog put his nose to the dirt and nudged something.
Hutto looked closer and saw the copper contact plate that would detonate the buried explosives. It was just 6 inches from his foot.
He tossed a rubber ball — Eddie's reward — in the opposite direction of the bomb. Minutes later, the dog found a second device buried nearby. Had Eddie not been there, the bombs could have wiped out the entire 13-man platoon, Air Force officials said.
"My little girls absolutely love Eddie," Hutto said. "They know that Daddy came home because of this dog."
Last year, the dog grabbed headlines once again when, during an outdoor training exercise, he fell ill and began showing signs of heatstroke. Eddie's handlers rushed him to BluePearl Veterinary Partners, an emergency animal hospital in Tampa where veterinarians saved his life. He returned to duty, serving another six months before his retirement.
Standing in a room full of Air Force dog handlers, Eddie appeared bewildered at the applause he received. He stood quietly panting as Air Force personnel recalled his achievements, recited a poem in his honor and presented Hutto with a discharge certificate.
At the end, Carol White, an Air Force private contractor, presented Eddie with a peanut butter and banana cake adorned with a photo of himself. He sniffed it cautiously before taking in mouthfuls of the unfamiliar and curiously sweet-tasting food.
For now, Eddie will move to the home of his original handler, Staff Sgt. Andrew Grymes, where he will ease into the life of a civilian dog. Air Force officials say that will mean lots of couch-sitting and ball-chasing.