Honoring Service – The Dickin Medal

May 24, 2016 - Posted By Andrew Jones

Cpl. Juan M. Rodriguez, military dog handler with 1st Law Enforcement Battalion, I Marine Expeditionary Force, kneels next to Lucca, a 8-year-old Belgian Malinois military working dog, next to the battalion's dog kennel at Camp Pendleton, Calif., July 2. Lucca deployed twice to Iraq and once to Afghanistan where she was injured by an improvised explosive device. The injury led to the amputation of her left front leg and retirement from military service. Rodriguez, Lucca's current handler, is scheduled to escort the veteran K-9 from the base to Finland where she will reside with Gunnery Sgt. Christopher Willingham, Lucca's original trainer.  During a turnover at O-Hare International Airport in Chicago, Ill., Lucca will be honored during a ceremony by American Airlines, which will provide transportation to Rodriguez and Lucca through its partnership with Air Compassion for Veterans. ACV is an organization that provides medically related air transport services to service members, veterans and their families. During her military service, Lucca uncovered more than 40 IEDs and saved countless lives.

Men and women who perform valiantly in the face of the enemy are not the only military personnel who should be awarded for their courage. This thought is what drove Maria Dickin to establish the Dickin medal through her veterinary charity the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA). The Medal was instituted in 1943 to honor the work of animals during World War II and has since honored 67 military service animals.

The first animals to receive the Dickin Medal were carrier pigeons that carried vital messages that contributed to the rescue of airmen from downed aircraft during 1942 and 1943. The award was given to numerous animals throughout the rest of the war ranging from dog that was killed in combat while saving his human handlers by collecting a live grenade to a pigeon that delivered crucial messages during the battles at Normandy. Unfortunately the award was largely forgotten following World War II, with no recipients between 1950-2000.

The medal made a spectacular resurgence following the attacks of September 11th attacks when it was given to 3 dogs: Appollo, Salty, and Roselle. Apollo received the Dickin medal on behalf of all search-and-rescue dogs that assisted in the aftermath of the September 11th attacks for their collective valor in the face of tragedy. Salty and Roselle were two Labrador guide dogs who received the medal for leading their blind owners down more than 70 flights of stars to escape the burning buildings during the attacks. Since then the Dickin Medal has been seen as a symbol of valor among service animals and has been awarded numerous times to animals who have helped save the lives of their human counterparts during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The latest recipient of the award is Lucca, a retired Marine Corps German Shepard Dog. Lucca received the award for outstanding service in Iraq and Afghanistan. During her six years of service Lucca completed 400 missions without a single casualty to any member of her team. Sadly Lucca lost a leg during her final patrol on March 23, 2012, when she detected an IED that detonated at close range. Lucca uncovered more that 40 IEDs during her two deployments to Iraq and one deployment to Afghanistan. She was honored with the Dickin Medal during a ceremony in London on April 5, 2016. As part of her retirement she will be transferred from her current handler Juan M. Rodriguez (pictured above) to live with her original trainer Gunnery Sergeant Christopher Willingham.