Our Youth

Youth Reflection: Canine Warriors

By Emma Schoppmeyer

Bishop Kearney H.S., Bensonhurst, had the honor of welcoming two Marine working dogs and their handlers during a special  Mass in their honor.


The two dogs, Sgt. Lucca and Jony, and  handlers Gunnery Sgt. Christopher Willingham, Cpl. Juan Rodriguez and Sgt. Brian Riddle, came to meet us at St. Athanasius Church, Bensonhurst. We also met Lance Cpl. Al Brenner, handler for his dog, Grief, who died from wounds suffered in an explosion.

As a big lover of animals, especially dogs, it brought me great joy to see Sgt. Lucca and Jony.

Military working dogs are important to the military mission because they perform tasks that humans cannot. With an acute sense of smell five to 10 times stronger than a human, they are able to detect minute traces of explosives or drugs and alert their handlers of their presence. They sniff for bombs in patrol dangerous explosive zones, and risk their lives to protect others.

The military dogs, along with their handlers from every military service, are deployed worldwide to support the war on terror, including Iraq and Afghanistan, where Sgt. Lucca, Jony and Grief have served.

Sgt. Lucca, a Belgian Malinois, is a two-time Iraq veteran that also served a tour in Afghanistan. She is a specialized search dog trained to detect trace amounts of explosive compounds and warn handlers of their presence. In that role, she participated in more than 400 patrols with at least 40 confirmed findings. On her last deployment, she suffered an injury from an improvised explosive device blast that resulted in the amputation of her left front leg. This injury led to her retirement from military service.

Sgt.Willingham was Sgt. Lucca’s original handler and was teamed with her for the first two deployments. Cpl. Rodriguez was her second handler who did an amazing job of saving Sgt. Lucca when she was injured. Just like the old saying goes, “A dog is a man’s best friend,” Sgt. Lucca and Sgt. Willingham are best friends. He always had her back, and she his, saving his life twice. Throughout their missions together, they have developed an extremely close relationship.

Jony, also a Belgian Malinois, has served two deployments, both in Afghanistan, with his partner, Sgt. Riddle, who is a two-time Purple Heart recipient. Jony and Sgt. Riddle are not only partners, but they are also friends with a durable bond.

Grief, a German Shepherd who served in Afghanistan, unfortunately, is no longer with us. He died from his wounds from an improvised explosive device, and his handler, Lance Cpl. Brenner, has been severely injured, but thankfully survived.

We, the students at Bishop Kearney, are extremely thankful for these handlers and their dogs. We thank them for keeping us safe and for fighting for our freedom. They are truly heroes. May God bless them.

Schoppmeyer is a freshman at Bishop Kearney H.S

Bishop Kearney H.S., Bensonhurst, honored Marine service dogs and their handlers during a special Mass in St. Athanasius Church. Above, standing from left, are Sgt. Willingham, Sgt. Lucca, Cpl. Rodriguez and his wife, Sgt. Riddle and Jony.
Bishop Kearney H.S., Bensonhurst, honored Marine service dogs and their handlers during a special Mass in St. Athanasius Church. Above, standing from left, are Gunnery Sgt. Willingham, Sgt. Lucca, and Cpl. Rodriguez. Sgt. Riddle is petting Jony.
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