Britain Gives Medals to Brave Military Animals—Why Can’t America?
It’s time for the canine Medal of Honor
Sasha was awarded the Victoria Cross last month. Posthumously.
Sasha is a dog. The medal isn’t exactly the Victoria Cross, but rather the Dickin Medal, the animal equivalent of Britain’s highest military honor.
The medal is “awarded to animals displaying conspicuous gallantry or devotion to duty” while serving with the British military, according to the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals, which created the honor in 1943.
It’s “the highest award any animal can receive whilst serving in military conflict.”
Too bad the U.S. military has nothing like it.
A four-year-old yellow Labrador, Sasha earned her medal as a war dog in Afghanistan. She searched for hidden bombs and weapons while attached to the 2nd battalion of the Parachute Regiment.
“During her time in Afghanistan, Sasha made 15 confirmed operational finds,” the British Ministry of Defense said.
“On one occasion recalled by regimental colleagues, Sasha was searching a building in Garmsir when she detected two mortars and a large quantity of weaponry, including explosives and mines,” the ministry continued. “This find alone undoubtedly saved the lives of many soldiers and civilians.”
Sasha died in a Taliban ambush on July 24, 2008. Also killed was her handler, Lance Corporal Kenneth Rowe.
Sasha is the 65th animal to receive the Dickin Medal. The roll of honor includes 32 pigeons, 29 dogs, three horses and a cat.
Unfortunately, while Britain recognizes military animal bravery, the United States does not.
“There are not any medals given to the military dogs, only the handlers,” Ron Aiello, of the United States War Dogs Association, told War is Boring. “You hear every now and then that a dog has been given a Purple Heart or a Bronze Star. This is usually done on a unit level and is not recognized by the military or the Department of Defense.”
If an American war dog receives recognition, it’s from a civilian organization. Gabe, a U.S. Army dog who completed 200 combat missions in Iraq before retiring, was named the 2012 American Hero Dog by the American Humane Association.
In 2012, Congress passed a law that mandated better care for retired military dogs, including having the military pay to return them to the United States, rather than forcing the adopting family to pick up travel expenses. The law also called for the Pentagon to create some sort of recognition for military dogs.
A unit’s commanding officer or kennel master is now allowed to issue an achievement certificate to a dog, Aiello said. “Our organization has been trying for years to get the DoD to issue a Service Award Medal specifically for military dogs, but they keep saying no.”
The Pentagon is again considering whether to issue medals to drone operators and cyberwarriors. If the military can bestow medals to personnel serving far from any combat zone, it should also award them to dogs and other animals who serve in active fighting.
The medals may not mean anything to the animals. But they will mean something to us.