WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez, ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today heralded the heroic service and sacrifice of the military K9 team that played an integral role in the take down of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and called for Conan and his handler to receive official Department of Defense (DoD) commendations.
Sen. Menendez authored the law creating the Guardians of America’s Freedom Medal to recognize the valor and meritorious achievement of these highly trained and skilled teams to be issued by each branch of the military to honor their extraordinary service and sacrifice in defense of this nation.
“Military Working Dogs and their handlers have become integral to the defense of our nation. If we, as a nation, can strap a Kevlar vest on a dog and send them into battle, then we should be able to honor these guardians of freedom and their handlers with the recognition they deserve,” said Sen. Menendez. “I can’t think of any K9 team more fitting for this honor that Conan and his handler. The President’s Twitter stunt only undermines their service and sacrifice. Instead of giving them a fake medal, let’s bestow these heroes with the official recognition they deserve.”
Earlier this week, President Trump tweeted a doctored photograph depicting him placing a fake medal around the neck of Conan, the Belgian Malinois who was injured in the raid on Baghdadi’s compound.
First introduced by Sen. Menendez in 2016, the Guardians of America’s Freedom Medal Act was passed in 2018 as part of the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).
Today, Sen. Menendez sent a letter to Defense Secretary Mark Esper urging the law be fully implemented.
“Military Working Dogs and their handlers are highly trained and skilled teams who have proven their valor and meritorious achievements on many occasions. As a grateful nation, it is time for us to recognize their outstanding contributions in defense of our country,” the senator wrote. “Over the years, the roles and contributions of MWDs have expanded into each military service branch’s critical operations. I introduced the Guardians of America’s Freedom Medal Act to recognize our military K9 teams—both soldier and military working dog for their bravery, service and sacrifice in defense of our nation.”
Military K9 teams serve on the frontlines detecting improvised explosive devices, leading search and rescue operations, locating casualties, guarding supplies, and patrolling secured perimeters. Most critical, they have put their lives on the line to save countless men and women in uniform serving at their side.
The Guardians of America’s Freedom Medal gets its name from the inscription etched into the Military Working Dog Teams National Monument located at the DoD’s Military Working Dog Program headquarters at the 341st Training Squadron stationed at Joint Base San Antonio-Lakeland in Texas.
The ranks and roles of MWDs have gradually expanded since, and have been integrated into each military branch’s critical operations. Aside from Conan, perhaps the most notable of late is Cairo, a highly intelligent and fearless Belgian Malinois and member of Navy SEAL Team 6, who participated in the May 2, 2011 raid of Osama Bin Laden’s Pakistani compound.
Full text of the letter is below and can be downloaded here:
October 31, 2019
The Honorable Mark Esper
United States Department of Defense
Washington, DC 20301
Dear Secretary Esper,
The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019 included Section 582 – Award of Medals or Other Commendations to Handlers of Military Working Dogs that I authored. I am writing to inquire on the status of the implementation of this provision within our military service branches.
As you know, Military Work Dogs (MWDs) have been on the front lines of American conflicts since World War I when Sergeant Stubby, a short brindle bull terrier mutt, served in the Army’s 102nd Infantry, 26th Yankee Division. Over the years, the roles and contributions of MWDs have expanded into each military service branch’s critical operations. I introduced the Guardians of America’s Freedom Medal Act to recognize our military K9 teams - both soldier and military working dog for their bravery, service and sacrifice in defense of our nation.
In May 2011, we learned about the essential role of Cairo, a highly intelligent and fearless Belgian Malinois and member of Navy SEAL Team 6, in the raid of Osama Bin Laden’s Pakistani compound. Now, we are learning about another Belgian Malinois named Conan who played a critical role in the recent raid that led to the death of ISIS founder Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Before Baghdadi detonated an explosive vest to commit suicide, the MWD had chased him into a tunnel. The Belgian Malinois suffered injuries on the mission and is recovering. This is a reminder of the important role MWDs and their handlers play in upholding our national security.
I was surprised to see reports that President Trump publicly shared a fake image of himself presenting an award to Conan. Section 582 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019 requires each Secretary of a military department to carry out a program to provide for the award of one or more medals or other commendations to handlers and military working dogs. Can you provide me with an update on the progress of the military service branches to carry out Section 582 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019?
Military Working Dogs and their handlers are highly trained and skilled teams who have proven their valor and meritorious achievements on many occasions. As a grateful nation, it is time for us to recognize their outstanding contributions in defense of our country. I look forward to your timely response.
April 22, 2021