The Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III visited Naval Support Activity Bethesda (NSAB) Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC) to commission a new second lieutenant March 12. Welsh, the highest ranking Air Force officer, described the ceremony as special, explaining he does not often commission lieutenants, and never a four-legged one.
Goldie, a rich, lustrous, wavy-coated Golden Retriever, is the newest Air Force officer honored with the commissioning. By Welsh, who brought with him to the ceremony, Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force James A. Cody, the highest ranking enlisted member in the Air Force, was also in attendance.
Welsh and Cody pinned second lieutenant bars on Goldie’s uniform during the event, attended by other high ranking military officials including Dr. William LaPlante, assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition; Maj. Gen. Timothy M. Ray, director of global power programs in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force; NSAB Commanding Officer Capt. David A. Bitonti; wounded warriors and their families; and Goldie’s colleagues, other therapy dogs and their trainers.
Describing those in attendance as “distinguished,” especially the wounded warriors and those who care for them, Welsh said. The WRNMMC therapy dog program which welcomed Goldie into its ranks, is “a fantastic example of how all of us understands the need for taking care of people when they need it most.” He added after more than a decade of war, a lot has been learned about what people need when they are in trouble or recovery. “You have been the teachers – [wounded warriors] and those of you who care for them,” he said.
“I think the story out of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, when we look back on it more than 50 years from now, is going to be a medical story,” Welsh continued. “This is all part of it, and I’m really excited after just saying, ‘Hi’ to Goldie and talking to the people who have been training him.”
With his right paw raised, Goldie was administered a special officer’s oath to “support and defend the wounded warriors of the United States against all unhappy feelings, foreign and domestic; bearing unconditional love and allegiance to the same … and faithfully discharging the duties of love, caring and comfort for America’s heroes.”
Welsh also presented Goldie a Certificate of Meritorious Service, stating, “he is a highly trained, intelligent and friendly asset for the Department of the Air Force. Goldie’s keen knowledge, unique abilities and personality made him the perfect choice to represent the Air Force to support the wounded warrior efforts at Walter Reed [Bethesda].”
The WRNMMC therapy dog program, Goldie became a member of, has been in existence since 2007. The dogs live with therapy program staff members who provide care, feeding and spend a number of days each week visiting wounded warriors or other staff members. Going bed-to-bed, in occupational and physical therapy areas or offices, they spread cheer and improve morale. The dogs wear service uniforms tailored by Walter Reed Bethesda’s in-house seamstress.
Bitonti described the importance of the therapy dog program at Walter Reed Bethesda, explaining, “[it] is one additional asset in our ability to provide patient-and-family-centered world class care to our beneficiaries while at the same time, assisting our staff resiliency programs so that our members can better care for themselves and our patients.
“This is absolutely at the core of our mission and essential to our success,” Bitonti continued. “These dogs have a unique way of reaching and touching patients and staff in ways that no human can. Their unconditional love and support, the ability to bring a smile to the face or just provide a brief minute of respite from an otherwise strenuous and emotional day, is their niche, and I truly believe they are the best at it.”
Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Aaron Lance, leading petty officer (LPO), orthodontic/pediatric/OFP Dentistry Department, is the also the LPO for the active duty facility dog handlers. He said Goldie will live with Patty Barry, coordinator of the therapy dog program and Navy Rear Adm. Laura Lee, another Golden Retriever in the program.
“The active duty handlers escort the facility dogs around the hospital to various clinics, wards, departments, etc.,” Lance added. “Our job is to ensure that the facility dogs go around and visit patients, their family members and even the staff. Canines Marine Staff Sgt. Archie, 2nd Lt. Goldie, Army Command Sgt. Maj. Susie, Adm. Laura Lee and Adm. Bobbie contribute to the well-being of everyone and boost their morale.”