Honoring our military working dog teams as heroes was the theme of Natural Balance’s Rose Parade Float called “Canines with Courage”. Seeing the float first hand and meeting the dogs and handlers that represented all those dogs past and present who have assisted in saving lives during times of conflict gave me a tremendous sense of awe.
I never realized the powerful relationship between humans and dogs during wartimes. There is a bond that develops when military handlers train and work constantly with their dog. The dog becomes their best friend, confidant and partner.
Natural Balance’s “Canine with Courage” float not only honored this partnership but it also unveiled the forthcoming National Monument that will be dedicated in October 2013 at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. Known as the Military Working Dog Teams National Monument, it will pay homage to those military working dogs and their handlers that fought in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. Its location was chosen because this is the military training facility of all working dog teams.
The Rose Parade float showcased a replica of the National Monument, a military handler, a Doberman Pinscher, German Shepherd, Labrador Retriever and Belgian Malinois. It was set again a floral mural depicting scenes of dogs working in action during a conflict.
For those who attended the post Rose Parade event, the actual bronze sculptures of the Military Handler, Doberman, German Shepherd, Labrador and Belgian Malinois that will make up the National Monument were on view.
As I walked behind the scenes at the post parade event, I spoke with John Burnam, the founder of John Burnam Foundation, who is responsible for making this National Monument a reality. I also met Sergeant First Class Charles Shuck with Gabe, a retired 10 year old Labrador, who worked for the Army, Gunnery Sergeant Christopher Willingham and Corporal Juan Rodriguez of the Marines who were both handlers of Lucca, the 8 year old German Shepherd wounded in Afghanistan and Master At Arms 3rd Class Nickolas Cody Aloi from the Navy with Sunny, a 7 year old German Shepherd. All seemed blown away with the experience of riding on the float as they considered it a once in a lifetime opportunity that they will never forget.
Natural Balance under the direction of Joey Herrick, President should be commended for bringing to the publics attention, via the “Canines with Courage” Rose Parade float, the importance of remembering these military working dog teams and making us aware of the establishment of a National Monument that pays tribute to their courageous deeds.
The dogs that participated and rode on the Canines with Courage Rose Parade float each had their own stories. Gabe was trained as a specialized search dog working off lead to find weapons and ammunition. Gabe and his handler Sergeant Shuck were deployed to Iraq. Gabe’s successes include participating in 210 missions with 26 finds and earning 40 awards and coins of excellence. In 2008 Gabe was selected as the AKC Heroic Military Working Dog. In 2012 Gabe was the AHA American Hero Dog. Sergeant Shuck is no doubt extremely proud of Gabe’s accomplishments. Sergeant Shuck mentioned that Gabe had another job that was probably even more important than all the awards he has received, he gave the unconditional love and support that was needed to the troops when one of their brethren was lost in battle.
Lucca’s story involves two handlers as he was teamed with Sergeant Willingham for 5 years and than with Corporal Rodriquez for 18 months. While scouting Lucca was injured from a roadside bomb, losing a leg. Lucca is a war hero. Seeing this spirited loving dog today overcoming his handicap of three legs is encouragement for all of us as you make the best of life even with the challenges set before you. Lucca now is the family dog of Sergeant Willingham.
For all those dogs and handlers that sacrificed their lives for our security and safety, the Canines with Courage Rose Parade float and showcasing upcoming Military Working Dog Teams National Monument duly respects their memories.
For more information about or to donate to the Military Working Dog Teams National Monument click here.
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