MENENDEZ CELEBRATES PASSAGE OF FIRST-OF-ITS-KIND LEGISLATION TO HONOR SERVICE, SACRIFICE OF MILITARY K9 TEAMS MOVES CLOSER TO BECOMING LAW
HOLMDEL, N.J. – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez today announced that his legislation to create the first ever official Department of Defense (DOD) commendation for military working dogs (MWDs) and their handlers was included in the FY 2019, National Defense Authorization Act passed both by the House and Senate and now on the President’s desk waiting to be signed. The Guardians of America’s Freedom Medal recognizes the valor and meritorious achievement of these highly trained and skilled teams and would be issued by each branch of the military to honor their extraordinary service and sacrifice in defense of this nation.
“Two years ago, I introduced legislation to create the Guardians of America’s Freedom Medal to recognize our military K9 teams – both soldier and military working dog – for their bravery, service and sacrifice in defense of our nation,” said Sen. Menendez. “As I said then, if we, as a nation, can strap a Kevlar vest on a dog and send them into battle, then we should be able to honor these guardians of freedom and their handlers with the recognition they deserve. I’m incredibly grateful to say that I secured inclusion of this new commendation in the National Defense Authorization Act which today has taken two giant steps toward becoming law.”
There is currently no formal recognition for military K9 teams, despite their growing role and reliance within the United States Armed Forces. They serve on the frontlines detecting improvised explosive devices, leading search and rescue operations, locating casualties, guarding supplies, and patrolling secured perimeters. Most critical, they have put their lives on the line to save countless men and women in uniform serving at their side.
Joining Sen. Menendez at the event was Ron Aiello, President of U.S. War Dogs Association.
“We started approaching the Department of Defense back in 2006 asking them to create a special award medal for service dogs and their handlers and over the years they just kept saying ‘no, no, no’,” Aiello said. Aiello explained how one of Sen. Menendez’s staff members passed the idea along to the Senator. “I gotta tell you, he knocked it right out of the ball park and got us home and we’re here today to celebrate this special medal.” Turning to Sen. Menendez, Aiello said, “Sir, I’ve got to salute you. Thank you sir for getting us to this point.”
The following New Jersey MWD handlers have been killed in action:
- Charles Paul Brown, Army, South Amboy
- Benjamin Mason Jr. USMC, Piscataway
- Claude Joseph Gaspard, Army, Short Hills
- James Allen Jonson, Army, Jersey City
- Alden John Bullwinkel, Army, Dunellen
- Richard Edward Ford, Army, Surf City
- Robert William Elliot, USMC, Woodbury
- David Alan Nudenberg, Army, Caldwell
- Christopher Zeno Czarnota, Army, Perth Amboy
In June 2016, Sen. Menendez announced the introduction of his legislation during the tenth anniversary rededication ceremony of the United States War Dog Memorial in Holmdel, N.J.
The Guardians of America’s Freedom Medal gets its name from the inscription etched into the Military Working Dog Teams National Monument located at the DOD’s Military Working Dog Program headquarters at the 341st Training Squadron stationed at Joint Base San Antonio-Lakeland in Texas.
MWDs have been on the front lines of American conflict since World War I, when Sergeant Stubby, a short brindle bull terrier mutt, served in the Army’s 102nd Infantry, 26th Yankee Division. Sergeant Stubby is credited with capturing a German spy, comforting wounded soldiers on the battlefield, and saving the lives of countless doughboys by sniffing out poison gas and barking warnings to the men in the trenches. His exploits are immortalized in the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.
The ranks and roles of MWDs have gradually expanded since, and have been integrated into each military branch’s critical operations. Perhaps the most notable of late is Cairo, a highly intelligent and fearless Belgian Malinois and member of Navy SEAL Team 6, who participated in the May 2, 2011 raid of Osama Bin Laden’s Pakistani compound.