Meet Lucca, the US Marine dog who lost her leg on duty sniffing out IED bombs in Afghanistan. She’s a 12 year old German Shepard and she’s recently been awarded the Dicken medal, a veterans charity award that honors the work of animals in war.
In 2012 whilst on tour in Afghanistan she detected IEDs but before her squad knew, she trod on one of the explosives and got really badly injured her leg being blown off instantly and suffering sever burns to her chest. Her trainer, Sergeant Chris Willingham speaking on This Morning in the UK told the presenters how they immediately rushed to her rescue because she’s part of their squad. Her then trainer, Corporal Rodriguez proceeded to give her first aid right before she was airlifted and flown to Germany for treatment. She got the same medical treatment one of the human members would receive and thankfully, her life was saved. Within 10 days, she was walking again like a miracle.
Lucca is one of many animals who work tirelessly and loyally to protect us. In fact, Lucca is one of the only dogs in the world who can claim that she has never lost a life whilst on duty. Ever. That makes her a superstar in ours books and we’re super psyched she’s getting the recognition she deserves. In her years of service she’s successfully completed over 400 missions protecting the lives of thousands of allied troops.
She also helped to boost moral of her troops in between missions. Willingham told The Daily Mail in an interview:
“In between missions, I took the searching harness off and let her play and interact with the troops…She made friends wherever she went”
He also said:
“She is loyal and has an amazing drive for work as a search dog.”
Lucca clearly has a talent for her job and for cheering her up her human colleagues!
Lucky Lucca got to travel all the way to Wellington Barracks in London from California to receive her award.
The Dicken Award
The Dicken Award is issued by The PDSA and was named after its founder, Maria Dicken. It was created to honor the bravery of animals serving in war to recognize that they did not choose this fate. Past recipients of the award include dogs, WWII messenger pigeons, three horses and one cat.
Animals in Service
Military Departments across the world take animals into their troops. The USA has involved many, some are even quite strange whereas others have been controversial.
Dogs are known as man’s best friend and seen as our domestic companions but as you’ve seen from Lucca, dogs are also our companions in war. In fact, dogs have been used in this way for thousands of years. The Romans donned their dogs with spiked collars and armor and the Spanish army in the 1500’s used dogs to attack their enemies!
As time passed, dogs were phased out of aggressive combat but their superior skills of scent continue to be utilized. Dogs are not only used to sniff out explosives but are also used as trackers and scouts. In the USA Army, bomb-sniffing dogs even get their own bulletproof vests tailored especially for them!
Pigeons have been serving the war efforts for a very long time. In fact you could say that the modern day drones have been modelled on the pigeons’ ability to delivery messages and conduct overhead reconnaissance of the battlefields. There’s a famous pigeon, Cher Ami, who flew over France delivering messages for the USA Army during World War II. He was shot in the breast on his last mission. Poor Cher Ami did not survive his wounds, but still managed to return with his message!
In The Navy, Dolphins have been trained and used to detect underwater mines. The reason they use dolphins is because they have the ability to use sonar which helps them detect the mines. However, it’s expected the dolphins will be retired from this dangerous work soon and replaced by underwater drones.
Mules and Horses
Mules and horses have played a huge part in war efforts for centuries. In fact, thinking of horses usually strikes up images of warriors in cloth saddles waging their weopans to an oncoming army of equal size and strength. Horses were used in major combat right up until WWII when modern warfare of machines and tanks begun. Today, mules play a huge part in USA military service. They’ve been particularly instrumental to Special Operation troops who are away from larger units.
The use of pigs has been highly controversial with organizations like PETA raising awareness to the inhumanity of the treatment of pigs in the military. Instead of using them to help sniff out bombs like they do with other animals, they were using them for medical training. This meant shooting the animal and then rushing it to emergency car to prepare troops for combat care. Even though the USA Pentagon said they will reduce the use of live animals in this fashion, they haven’t said they will stop. Let’s hope they do though!
Back to Lucky Lucca
She now spends her days with her original trainer enjoying a dog’s life playing in the garden and eating her favorite foods. Willingham says:
“I do my best to keep her spoiled in her well-deserved retirement.”
We couldn’t agree more, Sergeant!
- The Dicken Medal is the highest honor an animal in service can achieve
- It’s only been awarded 67 times since 1943
- Lucca is the first Marine Corps to get the award
- In 2015, researchers at The US Army Research Office started looking at having elephants in their troop who could sniff out explosives! There’s a website dedicated to war pigeon, Cher Ami who won the French Croix de Guerre.
- Sea Lions have been used to detect mines in the USA military efforts because of their excellent underwater hearing, speed and vision.
- The USA Military have recently used bees to detect mines!
- The USA Army tried to use bats to bomb enemies but it was a massive flop. They haven’t given up on bats entirely though as nowadays Pentagon scientists study bat wings and flight mechanisms for ideas on future aircraft design!