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May-02-2013 12:35printcommentsVideo

VOTE FOR USMC Combat Veteran MWD Lucca K458: AHA Hero Dog Award Contest

“Lucca was the only reason I made it home to my family.” - Gunnery Sergeant Chris Willingham, USMC

Marine Corps dog Lucca
Vote for Lucca K458 each day from May 7th through July 30, 2013.


GySgt Willingham and Lucca K458. Lucca K458 is
a MARINE Hero. As a warrior, she is worthy
of the 2013 American Humane Association Hero
Dog Award
. Please help us win. SUPPORT OUR
TROOPS and all MWD'S and Handlers." SEMPER FI

Marine Corps MP Explosive Detection Dog and Military Working Dog Lucca K458, a Marine Combat Veteran, has entered the 2013 American Humane Association Hero Dog Awards Contest and needs your support and VOTES. MWD Lucca K458 served in the MARINE CORPS for six years and was honored to be a MWD MARINE. She retired in 2012 due to injuries sustained while serving in Afghanistan.  She now lives at Quantico, Virginia with her handler, Gunnery Sergeant Chris Willingham. In 2012, Lucca K458 was officially adopted by her handler, GySgt Willingham, who cares for her medically and also provides her with lots of love, patience and comfort.

“Seven years ago, April 23, 2006, Lucca and I were paired together and began our training as a dog team,” recalls GySgt Willingham. “Lucca and I landed in Iraq and served with several units during the surge south of Baghdad. Lucca was very popular during our deployments. She even received more care packages than me, but I wouldn't have it any other way. A very important secondary and unofficial mission was increasing troop morale. Between missions, I would take Lucca's searching harness off and let her run around the troops we were supporting. She really brought a piece of home to a tough situation. You could see the morale improve from having Lucca around. In addition to locating explosives, Lucca was directly responsible for the arrest of four insurgents.”

"Since her injury, Lucca has maintained the same spirit,” says GySgt Willingham. “Lucca now serves as the face for the National Military Working Dog monument. We will travel with the monument around the country until it is installed in Texas later this year. It is an honor to care for a War Hero. Military working dogs have been serving our country since WWII and I am very proud to be a part of a community that has an amazing legacy. I want to see her win the 2013 American Humane Association Hero Dog Awards. Once you read her story (see below*), she will be your hero also.”

GySgt Willingham and Marine MWD Lucca K458 entered the 2013 American Humane Association Hero Dogs Award Contest in HONOR of all WAR DOGS.  If Lucca wins, up to $6,500 will go to the United States War Dog Association. This is a great organization whose mission is to educate the public about the MWD’s.  Also, they support MWD teams who are forward deployed. In fact, they supported Lucca during her deployments

Picture Caption: Lucca K458 (Left) hanging out with her friend Posha, (Right), Sergeant Soutra’s MWD during deployment
to Iraq in 2008. Posha served on combat deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. In August 2011, Posha passed away from cancer.
Rest in Peace, Posha.

American Humane Association's Hero Dog Awards™ were created in 2010 to celebrate the powerful relationships between dogs and people, to serve as a catalyst to advance society's understanding of the human-animal bond. Dogs are an invaluable part of our lives every day; as companion animals, service and therapy animals, animal soldiers, police officers and first responders and emerging heroes. American Humane Association advocates for the American values of caring, compassion and hope. The first annual star-studded awards show, held in October 2011, and hosted at the Beverly Hilton Hotel by Carson Kressley, is a new and ambitious effort to continually recognize “ordinary dogs that do extraordinary things.”

HERO DOG LUCCA K458. Video created by Joe Kelly Sturm

Operation Lucca K458

SUPPORT MWD Lucca K458 by submitting your VOTE for LUCCA May 7, 2013 through July 30, 2013. Vote by email. You can submit one vote per dog per category every 24 hours. LUCCA is listed in the Military Dog Category.

*Exclusive Interview with Marine War Hero MWD Lucca K458 (Woof)

"I am a Specialized Search Dog (retired) trained to search for explosives off-leash. I am a 9 year old German Shepherd/ Belgium Malinois mix and was born in Holland in 2004. In 2006, I graduated from the University of Defeating Terrorist Iraq College: Finding Anything that Explodes and the Wires that Detonate Them. I received an Explosive Detection Master’s Degree. I deployed to Iraq in 2007, 2008 and to Afghanistan in 2011. While serving in the Marine Corps, I brought two handlers home from a war zone to their loved ones.

“After serving in the Marine Corps for six years, I am retired now but still serving this great nation," says Lucca K458. "I live with my handler, GySgt Chris Willingham, USMC, at Quantico, Virginia. Since my retirement I keep busy telling my story and the stories of my fellow Military Working Dogs and informing others of the important and valuable work we do for our military and the lives we save. I love children and people and my chew toys. I love attention period! I am enjoying my retirement and am getting plenty of rest, exercise, care, love, attention and couch time.

Here is my story.

    "My handler, GySgt Willingham, and I served together in Iraq and Afghanistan. On March 23, 2012, I was leading a patrol in Afghanistan. After four hours into the patrol, I located an IED. As I started searching the surrounding area, a second IED, which was booby-trapped, exploded. My left paw was blown off and my leg had to be amputated after that incident. I suffered burns to my chest and torso. Thanks to the quick reaction of my handler, Cpl Rodriguez, I was medically evacuated in a timely manner. I am very thankful to be alive. There was no permanent eye damage, or hearing damage and no internal shrapnel. I recovered at Camp Pendleton and was officially retired in 2012. In just ten days I was back up and walking. My recovery took over a month. Since my injury, GySgt Willingham has officially adopted me.

    “During my tours in Iraq and Afghanistan I kept hundreds of people safe. I led over 400 patrols, resulting in no injuries to Marines and soldiers, and had numerous finds when on patrol with Gunnery Sergeant Willingham and with Corporal Rodriguez. I have been through numerous fire fights and been close to mortars.

    “I am enjoying my retirement. In October 2012, I was reunited with my two handlers, GySgt Willingham and Cpl Rodriguez, at Sky Ball in Dallas, Texas. At Sky Ball, I received an award for my service in Iraq. In December, 2012, I was reunited with both of my handlers again in Pasadena, California where we represented the Military Working Dog community and participated in the Rose Parade. We rode on the Natural Balance’s “Canines with Courage” float.

MWD Lucca K458 is a Marine combat veteran who served two tours in Iraq and one tour in Afghanistan.

Please visit Lucca K458 on her on her facebook page:

Make Marine Hero Dog Lucca K458 your Cause: Vote for LUCCA K458 from May 7, 2013 through July 30, 2013.


Related Information:

Military War Dogs

In the past service dogs were often viewed as just government property. Now service dogs are treated with the respect they deserve, which includes retirement with the people who love them.

The military uses a variety of breeds to serve as Military War Dogs. The most common breeds are the German shepherd and the Belgian Malinois. According to a fact sheet from the military working dog unit, the German shepherd and the Belgian Malinois have the best combination of keen sense of smell, speed, endurance, strength, courage, intelligence and adaptability to almost any climatic condition. As of 2011, 600 U.S. Military dogs were actively participating in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Military dogs are relied upon to provide early warning for potential hazards saving the lives of the Special Forces with whom they operate. Military working dogs are capable of achieving over a 98% success rate in bomb detection.

Thanks to a new law, retired military dogs may now be adopted. Prior to 2000, older war dogs were required to be euthanized.

There are numerous memorials dedicated to war dogs, including March Field Air Museum in Riverside, California; the Infantry School at Fort Benning, Georgia. at the Naval Facility, Guam, with replicas at the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine in Knoxville; the Alfred M. Gray Marine Corps Research Center in Quantico, Virginia ; and the Alabama War Dogs Memorial at the USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park in Mobile, Alabama.

Military War Dogs provide a valuable service to our nation, displaying dignity, courage, and honor whether in training or operational setting.

The United States War Dogs Association

Coral Theill’s Military Articles at link

Coral Anika Theill, reporter and advocate, is author of "BONSHEA Making Light of the Dark." Her published works address trauma recovery and healing from post-traumatic stress and most recently, wounded Marines, the Warrior Games and Montford Point Marines. Her writings have encouraged and inspired numerous trauma victims and wounded Marines/soldiers recovering from PTS and TBI. Coral's positive insights as a survivor have also earned the respect of clinical therapists, advocates, attorneys, professors and authors.



Comments Leave a comment on this story.

All comments and messages are approved by people and self promotional links or unacceptable comments are denied.

Joe Kelly Sturm June 6, 2013 12:37 pm (Pacific time)

Hey Coral I see the contest runs until July 30th not June 30th just noticed it myself Thanks for all you have done Semper Fi

Valerie June 5, 2013 9:56 am (Pacific time)

The link at the top of the page doesn't work. I used the one posted by Coral Theill:

Our apologies Valerie, thanks for pointing that out, it is fixed now.

Coral Anika Theill June 1, 2013 8:35 am (Pacific time)

Sixty more days to vote - Remember to Vote for Lucca K458 each day through June 30, 2013.

Coral Anika Theill May 12, 2013 4:46 pm (Pacific time)

Remember to vote for LUCCA K458 every day until June 30th. Here is a 3 minute segment that best tells Lucca's story....from her two handlers, deployments, injury, reunion and retirement.

Anonymous May 9, 2013 9:42 am (Pacific time)


Coral Anika Theill May 7, 2013 9:38 am (Pacific time)

I voted for LUCCA today, Tuesday, May 7th, at Please remember to confirm your email address after voting.

Joe Kelly Sturm May 7, 2013 8:42 am (Pacific time)

Thanks Great article Coral!! Thank you

Coral Anika Theill May 6, 2013 6:20 pm (Pacific time)

A reminder to all of Lucca's supporters: once you cast your vote on site the system will send each voter a confirmation email to the email address they casted their vote with. Inside that email is a link they will need to click on to make their vote official. Without this last step their vote will not count. You can vote for LUCCA once every 24 hours beginning May 7th - June 30th.

Joe Kelly Sturm May 6, 2013 4:22 pm (Pacific time)

Great Article very well done Semper Fi to you Coral and thank You Sgt Beyco and Joe

Barb May 5, 2013 9:43 pm (Pacific time)

One of your best articles ever! And what great subject material. Loved it.

Coral Anika Theill May 3, 2013 8:04 am (Pacific time)

Military War Dogs provide a valuable service to our nation, displaying dignity, courage, and honor whether in training or operational setting. VOTE FOR LUCCA K458 from May 7th to June 30 at American Humane Association Hero Dog Award Contest.

Coral Anika Theill May 2, 2013 2:20 pm (Pacific time)

Thank you to all the Military Working Dogs past and present. Lucca K458, you are an inspiration!

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Sean Flynn was a photojournalist in Vietnam, taken captive in 1970 in Cambodia and never seen again.

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