Staff Sgt. Jason Spangenberg, 436th Security Forces Squadron dog handler, was presented the Bronze Star Medal March 4 by 436th Airlift Wing commander Col. Rick Moore at Dover AFB.

A lone Security Forces airman responsible for training Afghan forces and keeping Army Special Operations forces safe from improvised explosive devices has returned to Dover Air Force Base with more than just his ever-present K-9 companion.

Staff Sgt. Jason Spangenberg, 31, a military working dog handler with the 436th Security Forces Squadron, on March 4 was presented the Bronze Star Medal by 436th Airlift Wing commander Col. Rick Moore. Spangenberg earned the medal for his support of Army forces during his 2013 deployment to Afghanistan.

“I wasn’t expecting it,” Spangenberg said of the award. “I went to Afghanistan just to do my job and find explosives and to make sure the people who were out in front didn’t get injured.”

Spangenberg originally was awarded the Army Meritorious Service Medal, but it was upgraded to the Bronze Star Medal by Maj. Gen. Austin S. Miller, Commanding General, Special Operations Joint Task Force-Afghanistan.

“It was a very humbling experience,” said Spangenberg. “I was just doing my job.”

As humble as Spangenberg may be, others recognized the importance of the work he accomplished. Along with his military working dog, Rico, Spangenberg took part in more than 100 combat missions; the team was responsible for discovering more than 100 pounds of explosives over a period of four months.

“I think it is pretty cool that he was a lone airman deployed with Army Special Operations,” said 436th SFS commander Lt. Col. Joel Briske. “He operated at such a level that he was recognized by a two-star general. That doesn’t happen often.

“To have your Army Meritorious Service Medal upgraded to the Bronze Star Medal speaks of his character and his commitment to the combat mission in Afghanistan.”

A native of Scranton, Pa., Spangenberg joined the Air Force security forces 11 years ago, intending to take advantage of the educational and travel opportunities the service presented. He retrained to become a dog handler as soon as he was eligible to do so.

“To me, it’s awesome, probably the best job, the coolest job,” he said. “Let’s be honest, you’re working with man’s best friend and you can’t beat that.”

Rico and Spangenberg have that special relationship that marks a successful team. While the German shepherd sometimes can be feisty around others, to Spangenberg he’s something unique.

“If you talked to others, they might not agree, but I think he’s a sweetheart,” Spangenberg said.

Unfortunately, during Spangenberg’s deployment his shoulder was injured and required surgery and continuing rehabilitation.

“My shoulder was dislocated after an IED explosion hit our Humvee,” said Spangenberg. “I went as long as I could, but after getting back from deployment, I had to get surgery.”

As Spangenberg recovers from his injury, he is working to train other dog handlers instead of partnering with Rico. But he visits the German shepherd daily and expects to be back on the job with him shortly.

Spangenberg said working with the Army Special Operations forces was life-changing and that he thoroughly enjoyed his deployment.

“It was awesome, it is what we dream of as K-9 handlers,” said Spangenberg. “I did and saw a lot of cool things, as well as having fun while doing my job.”

Note: Dover Post reporter Jeff Brown contributed additional information for this story.