WASHINGTON, D.C. _ A Czech German Shepherd who sniffed out improvised explosive devices while also coming under and surviving enemy fire in Afghanistan; an athletic black Labrador retriever who served four combat tours in Afghanistan where he detected explosives and provided emotional support for his human comrades; a brave Belgian Malinois who worked more than 50 combat missions, saving countless lives of U.S. troops; and a regal German Shepherd who safeguarded four-star Generals and political personnel, including the President of the United States, during their visits to troops overseas but who also lost a leg when a 120-pound bomb he detected exploded, have been chosen as recipients of the inaugural American Humane Lois Pope LIFE K-9 Medal of Courage.
The awards, presented at a Capitol Hill ceremony, are the nation’s highest honor for military dogs for extraordinary valor and service to America. They were created under the aegis of the American Humane Association, which has worked with the U.S. military for 100 years, and internationally renowned philanthropist and veterans advocate Lois Pope. Nineteen members of Congress and more than 200 Congressional staffers attended the packed event.
The awards were conferred upon the courageous canines by some of the country’s foremost military leaders, including General Robert B. Neller, Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps.; First Sgt. Matt Eversmann (Ret.), the hero of Mogadishu whose story inspired the film “Black Hawk Down”; and USMC Col. Scott Campbell, Commanding Officer of the Wounded Warrior Regiment in Quantico, Va.
“These remarkable dogs work side-by-side with the men and women of our Armed Forces, performing vitally important and life-saving work, while putting their own lives on the line for our country,” said Pope, who conceived and spearheaded the American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial, which was dedicated in Washington D.C., in October 2014 as the nation’s first and only permanent public tribute to the four million living disabled American veterans and all those who have died.
Pope, who is currently advocating for a national day of service to honor disabled veterans, added: “It is high time that their valiant sacrifices and contributions to our nation and our men and women in uniform are properly recognized at the highest levels.”
“It is important to recognize and honor the remarkable accomplishments and valor of these courageous canines,” said Rep. Gus Bilirakis, co-chair of the Congressional Humane Bond Caucus, which hosted the event. “By helping locate enemy positions, engage the enemy, and sniff out deadly IEDs and hidden weapons, military dogs have saved countless lives in the fight for freedom.”
“Soldiers have been relying on these four-footed comrades-in-arms since the beginning of organized warfare and today military dogs are more important than ever in keeping our service men and women safe,” said American Humane President and CEO Dr. Robin Ganzert. “At American Humane, which has been working with the U.S. military and military animals for 100 years, we feel it is time to recognize and honor the extraordinary feats and acts of devotion these heroic animals perform every day.”
Meet this year’s medal winners
Military Working Dog Matty
Retired Army Specialist Brent Grommet and Military Working Dog Matty, a Czech German Shepherd, developed an unbreakable bond while stationed together in Afghanistan, serving our country as a bomb-detection team. Using his superhuman sense of smell, Matty directed his human handler to hidden IEDs (improvised explosive devices), working day and night to protect our military troops from the deadly bombs.
Specialist Grommet says Matty saved his life, and the lives of everyone his unit, more than once. One day, they were searching in a bazaar for IEDs when their unit walked into an ambush. During the firefight they took casualties. Matty and Brent raced to clear a helicopter landing zone of IEDs while taking direct mortar fire.
After they got their wounded out, Matty and Brent went back to the front line and were engaging the enemy when they were hit with a Rocket-propelled grenade, knocking both of them unconscious and giving Brent a traumatic brain injury – one of several injuries the pair suffered together. Finally, Matty and Brent were driving in a truck that was hit by two roadside bombs. They were flown back to the United States for treatment. Although Brent had already filled out adoption paperwork, while he was having neurosurgery, Matty was wrongly given to someone else. The two friends lost track of each other. Soldier and dog were separated but they never stopped seeking each other out – and finally, with the help of American Humane, these two faithful Battle Buddies were brought back together. Now, Matty continues to offer lifesaving help to Brent. Matty helps his human companion manage the debilitating symptoms of both the visible and invisible wounds of war, bringing him a sense of security, calmness, and comfort. This courageous canine veteran has fiercely protected the solider he loves, steadfastly standing at his side—and always having his back—both on and off of the battlefield.
Contract Working Dog Fieldy
CWD Fieldy, an athletic black Labrador retriever, bravely served four combat tours in Afghanistan, where he worked tirelessly to detect explosives. These deadly devices are deliberately hidden from plain view and often buried underground, waiting to detonate under the weight of a misplaced footstep. Fieldy’s capable, courageous service in tracking down these often-fatal explosives saved an uncounted number of human lives. Fieldy also had a life-changing impact on one Marine in particular: his wartime comrade, U.S. Marine Corps Corporal Nick Caceres. Fieldy served alongside Cpl. Caceres, his handler, for seven months in Afghanistan. In addition to protecting Cpl. Caceres and his comrades-in-arms as an explosive-detection dog, Fieldy offered meaningful emotional support to his human counterpart, providing him with steadfast companionship, affection, and a sense of normalcy—all the more important in combat, a time of unimaginable stress. With the help of American Humane Cpl. Caceres was reunited with Fieldy when the courageous Labrador was honorably discharged from military service. Now, this four-legged veteran who served as a warrior’s best friend is serving in just one noble role: as man’s best friend.
Military Working Dog Bond
Military Working Dog Bond forged a connection – an unbreakable bond – with his handler, an active-duty serviceman whose name we are not revealing for security reasons. Bond, a brave Belgian Malinois, is one of the most remarkable and hard-working military dogs imaginable. He worked more than 50 combat missions, and was deployed to Afghanistan three times. Bond put his life at risk every day, using his keen senses, strength, and agility as Multi-Purpose dog in his Special Operations unit to keep our troops safe. The number of lives he saved through his work in enemy apprehension and explosives detection is simply unknown. Still, the toll of combat affected both members of this hero dog team. Bond and his handler both found themselves grappling with anxiety. MWD Bond suffers from combat trauma, once knocking out his own teeth trying to chew himself out of his kennel during a thunderstorm. And his handler, back in the States, found himself in need of his former Battle Buddy. Today, Bond continues to offer him this unconditional support today, not as a military working dog, but simply as his best friend. With the help of American Humane Society he adopted Bond when the four-legged veteran retired from active military service, and said being reunited with his canine companion will help ease his reentry back into civilian life a few months from now, something that can often be a difficult and daunting transition for our veterans.
Military Working Dog Isky
Military Working Dog Isky, a regal German Shepherd, spent years courageously protecting American leaders and our armed forces, alongside his handler and best friend, U.S. Army Sgt. Wess Brown. For a year, the two worked side by side to safeguard four-star American generals and political personnel, from the Secretary of State in Africa to the President of the United States in Berlin. The pair was deployed to Afghanistan in July 2013, where Isky went on to save uncounted lives while serving as an explosive-detection dog. During his time stationed in the Middle East, Isky found five deadly IEDs and 10 weapon caches – materials that could have spelt death for many, many Americans and allies. During a routine perimeter check, MWD Isky raced to a particularly spot in the area, urgently signaling for Sgt. Brown to follow. The team soon discovered that Isky had detected an IED buried nearly two feet underground – it turned out to be a 120-pound bomb, which could produce a devastating explosion. Both Sgt. Brown and Isky were struck by IEDs several times and both were injured. In the frantic moments during a combat patrol to avoid an ambush, Isky’s right leg was injured in 6 places, with so much trauma and nerve damage it had to be amputated — forcing him to retire from active military service. But even with three legs, Isky continues to offer lifesaving support to our armed forces: He now serves as Sgt. Brown’s PTSD service dog. Sgt. Brown now says there isn’t a moment when he doesn’t feel safe with Isky by his side—just like when the two of them were serving together on the battlefield.
About American Humane
American Humane is the country’s first national humane organization, founded in 1877. They began working with the American military in 1916 when the U.S. Secretary of War requested they help rescue wounded war horses on the battlefields of World War I Europe. Following World War II, American Humane helped pioneer the use of animal-assisted therapy to aid returning veterans. Today, through its Lois Pope LIFE Center for Military Affairs, the organization works to help active-duty members of the military, military families, and military animals. For more information, please visit www.AmericanHumane.org.
About Lois Pope, The Lois Pope LIFE Foundation, Inc., and LIFE (Leaders in Furthering Education)
As one of America’s leading philanthropists, Lois Pope has positively impacted the lives of individuals at the local, national and international levels. She has established three separate organizations dedicated to helping those in need. These organizations are the Lois Pope LIFE Foundation, Inc., Leaders In Furthering Education (LIFE), and the Disabled Veterans’ Life Memorial Foundation. For more than 20 years she has been the driving force behind the Lois Pope LIFE Center at the University of Miami School of Medicine, The American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial, and a groundbreaking new program with American Humane Association in Palm Beach County. Lois Pope has recently donated two Lois Pope Red Star Rescue Vehicles. Each rescue vehicle is a 50-foot long response unit, complete with a Ford F-350 truck and trailer, which is specifically designed and outfitted to provide an array of animal emergency services and cruelty responses within the region.
Mrs. Pope recently saw the completion of a decade’s long dream – the American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial, which was dedicated by President Obama in Washington, DC on Sunday, October 5, 2014. The Memorial will forever stand as a reminder to the public and legislators of the courage and sacrifices of the four million living disabled veterans and all those who died before them for the need to be vigilant in assuring their support, as well as being aware of the human cost of war.