Lucca Bear, Lucca Pie, Bearcat Lucca, and Mama Lucca…endearing names given to the German Shepherd-Belgian Malinois mix over her years of service in the Marine Corps. Most recently she worked along side Marine CPL. Juan “Rod” Rodriguez serving on Special Forces assignments with the Green Berets. Lucca was tops at detecting IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices). In over 400 missions, no one had been hurt by an IED while Lucca was on duty. She knew her job and performed it with excellence. The men had grown to trust her without reservation. She was the first line of defense for her team.
In March, 2012, in Afghanistan’s Helmand River Valley, Lucca was off leash, searching out IEDs for the team behind her. As Rod watched her carefully, he noticed she acted suspiciously around one particular area. Then, she stopped and stared at him. He got her message. He alerted the engineer of the team and called Lucca back. Before he heard the sound, he saw the puff of gray smoke erupting. “NO!” he screamed. As the smoke cleared, Rod saw Lucca standing, dazed but alive. Even the threat of snipers in the waiting didn’t stop Rod from immediately tending to Lucca’s wounds. With blood pouring out, he saw that Lucca’s left front leg and paw had been ripped away. He tore the tourniquet strap from his flak jacket and wrapped it tightly around Lucca’s shoulder. Lucca was injected with pain medication and carried onto a Medevac Black Hawk helicopter as the Green Berets stood security around her and Rod. The two made the intensely emotional trip to the veterinary tent at Kandahar Airfield. Rod was praised for his quick work to keep Lucca from bleeding out. He had saved her life but could not save her leg. It was amputated.
Rod spent the night in the 4′ kennel beside Lucca. He would not leave her side. Lucca’s wounds were bandaged using a red and pinkish vet-wrap to represent the Marine red and gold flag. The Marine motto, Semper Fidelis (always faithful), was inscribed on it. She had earned it! By day two after her surgery, Lucca was walking again. A few month’s later, she and Rod boarded a plane to Finland to connect with Staff Sgt. Chris Willingham and his family. Chris had trained Lucca and then served with her in Iraq and now he provided a forever home for her.
Today, Lucca is a happy, healthy dog who has accepted her “new normal” of getting around with ease on just three legs. She lives in Southern California with Chris and his family. When Lucca accompanies Chris on visits to other wounded vets, she is able to help these injured ones to open up so hindering emotional walls can come down. Every once in a while, at benefits for service members, Lucca has the opportunity to spend some quality time with Rod. He and Chris joke that they share joint custody.
If you want to read more about Lucca’s service, grab a copy of the book, Top Dog: The Story of Marine Hero Lucca, coming out October 23, 2014, written by Maria Goodavage. Information about adopting a retired military dog can be found at uswardogs.org.