By Steve Taggart
A dog who who protected thousands of allied troops in Iraq and Afghanistan has been awarded the animal equivalent of the VC, the PDSA Dickin Medal, today (Tuesday 5th April)
The twelve-year-old German Shepherd, who lost a leg while on duty, successfully completed over 400 separate missions during six years of active service.
The famous medal was instituted by PDSA’s founder, Maria Dickin, CBE, in 1943. It is the highest award any animal in the world can achieve while serving in military conflict.
Lucca worked as a search dog, who was specially trained to sniff out munitions and explosives, protected the lives of thousands of allied troops. There were no human casualties during any of the patrols Lucca went on.
The dog made a number of finds; including weapons caches, IEDs and bombs. Also, she was directly responsible for the apprehension of four insurgents.
Sadly on her final patrol, on 23 March 2012, Lucca discovered a 30lb improvised explosive device (IED) and as she searched for additional IEDs, a second device detonated. She instantly lost her front left leg and suffered severe burns to her chest.
Cpl Rodriguez said: “The explosion was huge and I immediately feared the worst for Lucca. I ran to her and saw her struggling to get up. I picked her up and ran to the shelter of a nearby tree line; applied a tourniquet to her injured leg and called the medics to collect us. I stayed with her constantly throughout her operation and her recovery. She had saved my life on so many occasions – I had to make sure that I was there for her when she needed me.”
Miraculously, none of the soldiers in the patrol were injured in the blast which injured Lucca.
Lucca was evacuated from Afghanistan to Germany and then to Marine Corps Base, Camp Pendleton, California, to complete her recovery. Cpl Rodriguez stayed at her side throughout each move – even choosing to sleep next to Lucca as she recovered.
Cpl Rodriguez continues: “Through all of her treatment and despite the pain she was in, her temperament never changed. Her fighting spirit was plain to see and I was so proud of how quickly she recovered.”
While she was rehabilitating, her adoption paperwork was submitted to retire her officially from active service and live with Chris Willingham and his family in California.
Lucca’s PDSA Dickin Medal was presented by the charity’s Director General, Jan McLoughlin. Jan said: “Lucca’s conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty makes her a hugely deserving recipient of the PDSA Dickin Medal. Her ability and determination to seek out arms and explosives preserved human life amid some of the world’s fiercest military conflicts.
“I am thrilled that both Lucca and Gunnery Sergeant Willingham have made the journey to London to receive this very special award.”
Gunnery Sergeant Chris Willingham said: “Lucca is very intelligent, loyal and had an amazing drive for work as a search dog. She is the only reason I made it home to my family and I am fortunate to have served with her. In addition to her incredible detection capabilities, Lucca was instrumental in increasing moral for the troops we supported. In between missions, I took the searching harness off and let her play and interact with the troops. Due to her personality, demeanor and proficiency as a search dog, Lucca made friends wherever she went. Today, I do my best to keep her spoiled in her well-deserved retirement.”
“Even when Lucca was injured, her good temperament and gentle nature never faltered. She has become an inspiration to everyone she meets and I am so very proud to see her decorated with this prestigious award.”
For more information visit www.pdsa.org.uk.