"It's an incredible honor to be part of this award ceremony today," said Lucca’s handler Gunnery Sergeant Christopher Willingham.
A retired U.S. marine dog was given the highest honors by the British military – the PDSA Dickin Medal, the canine equivalent of the Victoria Cross. The Victoria Cross is the highest British military decoration awarded for valor.
Lucca, a German Shepherd, completed 400 missions in six years of active service with allied troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. Lucca’s final battle cost her a leg due to an IED she discovered in 2012. The explosive went off right after she discovered it, causing her to suffer severe burns to her chest along with losing her front leg.
"She had her surgery and amazingly within 10 days she was walking around again," Willingham said. "The best part is that she has the same personality as she had before the blast."
Willingham deployed to Iraq with Lucca twice after training her for more than a year. "She's incredibly intelligent and loyal," Willingham commented. "You can really see her processing information, applying what she learned in a combat environment and be successful. I feel extremely fortunate."
"We really got in sync," Willingham added. "She almost knew what I wanted before I had to ask. Her drive and overall character were absolutely amazing."
After the explosion, Lucca was rushed into surgery for her wounds. "She had her surgery and amazingly within 10 days she was walking around again," Willingham said. "The best part is that she has the same personality as she had before the blast."
The U.S. military has been using dogs since WWII, and while they serve many different jobs, Willingham says their mission is always the same, “it’s about saving lives.”
"Thousands of service members have come home because of the capabilities of our dogs," Willingham said, "so it's always great to see their actions on the battlefield being recognized."
At the ceremony, former commanding generals of the U.S. Army Public Health Command addressed Lucca directly. "I know you don't understand the words but I hope you sense the human warmth, gratitude and pride that we all feel for your heroism and for a job extremely well done," said Retired Maj. Gen. Dean G. Sienko.
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