When men or women in the U.S. military perform exceptionally heroic acts, they are awarded with a Medal of Honor, the highest recognition of personal valor above and beyond the call of duty.
But what about military dogs who are exceptionally brave? No dog has ever been awarded a Medal of Honor. And the Purple Heart, awarded to military personnel who have been killed or injured while serving, hasn’t been awarded to a dog since World War II.
“The use of military decorations is limited to human personnel who distinguish themselves in service to the nation,” Department of Defense spokeswoman Eileen Lainez said in 2010, the American Kennel Club reports.
Although the Department of Defense may refuse to honor these four-legged heroes, they are finally getting some of the recognition they deserve.
The inaugural American Humane Lois Pope LIFE K-9 Medal of Courage awards were presented earlier this month to four dogs at a ceremony on Capitol Hill. The awards are sponsored by the American Humane Association (AHA), which has worked with the U.S. military for a century, and philanthropist Lois Pope.
“In the Army, we don’t honor our dogs,” said Retired Army Specialist Brent Grommet, whose partner, Matty, received an award. “They don’t get the recognition they deserve. They don’t get the medals. So, I think it’s perfect. I think it’s about time we recognize our dogs for what they are.”
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Meet Matty and the three other military heroes who received the first-ever Medal of Courage awards.
Grommet and Matty, a Czech German shepherd, worked together as a bomb-detection team in Afghanistan. Matty saved the lives of Grommet and others in their unit more than once. While dodging mortar fire during an ambush, Matty and Grommet managed to clear a helicopter landing zone of IEDs (improvised explosion devices).
The two were riding in a truck when it was hit with roadside bombs. Both were flown back to the U.S. to be treated for their injuries. Although Grommet had completed the paperwork to adopt Matty, his beloved partner was mistakenly given to someone else. With the help of AHA, they were eventually reunited. Now Matty is a service dog for Grommet, continuing to have his back as he helps him deal with his visible and invisible war wounds.
This black Lab served four combat tours in Afghanistan as an explosives-detection dog, saving many lives by tracking down IEDs buried in the sand and hidden out of sight. For seven months, Fieldy also provided emotional support to his handler, U.S. Marine Corps Corporal Nick Caceres.
After Fieldy was honorably discharged from the service, AHA helped reunite him with Caceres, and they continue to be inseparable.
Bond, a Belgian Malinois, served on 50 combat missions, with three tours in Afghanistan. As a multi-purpose dog, Bond helped saved plenty of lives by apprehending enemies and detecting explosives. But both Bond and his handler, who was not identified due to security reasons, suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
When he returned to the U.S., poor Bond knocked out his own teeth trying to chew his way out of a kennel during a thunderstorm. He was adopted by his former handler, and the two support each other as they deal with the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder. His handler said Bond will help make his transition back to civilian life much easier.
For a year, Isky, a German shepherd, and his handler, U.S. Army Sgt. Wess Brown, worked together to protect the lives of VIPs, from the Secretary of State in Africa to the President of the United States in Berlin. While on tour in the Middle East as an explosives-detection dog, Isky discovered five IEDs and 10 weapon caches. He also found a 120-pound bomb buried nearly two feet underground.
Unfortunately Isky lost a leg when he was struck by an IED, but he continues to work – as a PTSD service dog for Brown. “I feel safe with him every time we go anywhere,” Brown told ABC News. “That’s why he’s around.”
Photo credit: American Humane Association.