The Medal of Honor is a distinguished military award given for “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty.” In 1990, the U.S. Congress designated March 25th National Medal of Honor Day, dedicated to all Medal recipients. To date, 3,515 Medals of Honor have been presented to members of the Armed Forces.
In honor of this day, I want to share a humbling experience I recently had with a distinguished member of the US Marine Corps: GySgt Archie, a German Shepherd and member of the Walter Reed Bethesda Facility Dog program.
The Walter Reed National Military Medical Center’s Facility Dog program employs therapy dogs to help soldiers heal while in the hospital. Started in 2007, the program is an outreach of the Paws for Patriots program using Southeastern Guide Dogs. Initially trained to be service dogs for the disabled, chosen dogs were “career changed” for therapy. The program is unique because most of the dogs’ handlers are Active Duty service members. Only six dogs work at Walter Reed to provide comfort not only to patients, but everyone they encounter. They help families deal with hospital life and sadly, at times, loss. They also reduce stress for the staff. Just like members of the military, their training is rigorous. And just like military families who sacrifice to support the military, the families who live with Facility Dogs volunteer their homes and time to care for them.
GySgt Archie has been in the program since 2010 and is the only German Shepherd in the program. He is an icon at Walter Reed. Like a true Marine, he stands tall, with his head high and chest out. When he joined the program, he was named “Corporal” Archie and in one year, promoted to “Sergeant” Archie. His promotion was a full ceremony performed by uniformed Marines. During GySgt Archie’s tenure, he’ spent over 3,000 hours visiting patients and received several awards and pins. General Amos, the Commandant of the Marine Corps awarded GySgt Archie with a coin for his devotion and hard work.
GySgt Archie retired last month and I had the privilege of taking his retirement photos. And although he is retiring from his “job” (which I’m quite certain he loves and will miss), his Marine training is evident as he’s not retiring to rest and take it easy, but instead focusing on agility training. My time with Archie stirred memories of my father’s time in the military. While I was too young to remember what life was like when he was active duty, I cherish the stories my father has shared with me over the years. My father is full of wisdom and has seen more in his time in the military that some of us have seen in our lives – and I could say the same about Archie.
GySgt Archie’s handler, Tiffany was at Walter Reed after suffering an injury that resulted in a coma. Archie visited Tiffany. Tiffany became Archie’s handler in 2014. The bond Archie and Tiffany has is palpable.
Learning about the Walter Reed Facility Dog Program, and spending time with Archie has reminded me that life is short and precious. Take time to tell the people you love how you feel; spend quality time with them; stop a member of the military and thank them; and if you have a loved one who enjoys telling you stories about their past, listen to every word. I know I will have a renewed focus on my father’s stories about the military.
Thank you GySgt Archie.