Lucca was an eight-year-old Belgian Malinois when she was deployed to Iraq with her trainer Staff Sgt. Chris Willingham in 2008. Together they headed off to a land in turmoil and constant violence. They were being sent to Iraq as a military dog handler and an explosives detection dog.
During their time in Iraq, Lucca and Willingham spent countless hours finding explosive dangers that were designed to kill our troops. Their mission was a very important one because many lives were in their hands. One mistake would have meant death for them and others following behind them.
Thankfully, Lucca and Willingham were very good at doing their job. Lucca’s mission was “to alert on the explosives beforehand and have them rendered harmless so the troops can then move out.” Once she found the smell she was looking for she would lie down, stare at the scent and communicate the find to Willingham.
Willingham said, “that when a dog is in the front of a walking patrol and spots an improvised explosive device or other threat, he feels a great deal of job satisfaction.” He also said, “he is proud of Lucca, knowing that her actions and capabilities can save the lives of service members and civilians.”
Willingham is from Tuscaloosa, Alabama and served in the Corps for ten years. He was a dog handler for nine and the kennel master of the Camp Echo K9 team. Willingham and Lucca were together for two years and two deployments, one to Iraq and the other to Afghanistan.
Willingham credits Lucca with saving his life twice on a previous deployment. He had this to say about the bond he shares with Lucca:
We’ve got a lot of loyalty between us. We’ve been together for two deployments now and she saved my life a couple of times, so I’ve definitely got a tight bond with this dog, he said this while affectionately, scratching and petting Lucca.
In total Lucca spent two tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. She went on 400 patrols and had 40 confirmed finds of explosives, saving countless lives. Her list of accomplishments is long according to the Military Working Dog Team Support Association, Inc website.
Her finds included two IEDs, one car bomb, countless caches of homemade explosives, concealed AK-47s with magazines. She also found Dsh-Ks, which are vehicle mounted 50 caliber Soviet guns. These were hidden along the Tigris River. She also found deadly Dsh-K rounds buried in a cemetery tomb. Her discoveries led to the arrest of numerous insurgents.
GySgt. Lucca has definitely established herself as a heroine among the Marine Corps’ military working dogs. She is now retired even though she is not of the age to retire. In March while on patrol she was severely wounded, and it resulted in the loss of her left front leg.
The report is that “Lucca detected a buried explosive, alerted the Marines and kept scouting for more. But the bomb was booby-trapped and as Lucca ran to look for more, a second exploded.” (Daily Herald).
She was in Iraq with Cpl. Rodriguez when she was wounded. Rodriguez had this to say about the incident:
I heard her squealing and screaming. I went up and gave her first aid and a tourniquet. I petted her to try and keep her calm. It was rough. Nobody else got hurt.
It was an agonizing moment for both Rodriguez and Lucca. Her wounds were so severe her left front leg had to be amputated. Master Gunnery Sgt. Mark Oliva said, “After her injury, she returned to Camp Pendleton, where she was rehabilitated.”
On a Thursday morning, Lucca was flown from San Diego to Chicago and then to Helsinki via American Airlines, which paid for the flight and bumped the dog up to business class. She is headed to Helsinki to be reunited with Willingham, who is on embassy duty in Finland. No doubt it will be a happy reunion for both Lucca and Willingham.
This writer salutes GySgt. Lucca for her dedicated service to our Marines in Iraq and Afghanistan. Semper Fidelis Gunny. She is truly a four-legged heroine in the war on terror.You can watch the video below to see the GySgt. Lucca in a Youtube video titled: Homeward Bound Lucca retires.
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