Last Wednesday in Washington D.C. I had the humble honor to meet a young lady who is a former Soldier, a Military Police trooper who suffers from TBI (traumatic brain injury) having experienced several improvised explosive device (IED) attacks. She uses a walking cane due to back issues. Her name is Kathleen Habig, and she is still a feisty Soldier, challenging me to a push up contest. With her visible ailments you would have thought her focus would have been on her frailties, but that was not the case. Kathleen wanted me to be an advocate for something near to her heart, and she broke down crying as she presented the issue to me.
You see Kathleen wants better recognition and final resting places for Military Working Dogs, like her former partner in Iraq, Bagio. Tears rolled down here face as she described Bagio to me and what that special bond is like between Soldier and K9 sidekick. As I listened to Kathleen, her sincerity was so very engaging. Kathleen is seeking to advance legislation to expand the opportunity for military working dogs to be buried at all our national cemeteries.
According to information provided to Kathleen from her Congressional Representatives office, Rep. Whitman (R-Va), the United States War Dogs Association stated, “There is a cemetery in Michigan that has been used a veteran cemetery and is now being used to hold Military Burial Ceremonies for Military Working Dogs. The organization is also working to see a National Cemetery for Military Working Dogs at Lackland, AFB in San Antonio, Texas.”
I think Kathleen’s efforts are worth recognition and support. I do think we should have either a National Cemetery for Military Working Dogs or allow them burial, a final resting place, right there in our current National Cemeteries, beside the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines with whom they served in combat.
If you don’t believe me, then believe the words of Kathleen herself, as I share the email she sent to me.
Dear Col. West, This is Kathleen Habig. We met the other day at your luncheon in D.C. at the Capital Hill Club. I was the US Army vet with the cane. I talked to you about Bagio’s Bill and you asked that I send you all my info about it. Well this is it. These are all the e-mails I have with the liaison from Congressman Wittman’s office. As you can see, there are only 2 of them. I honestly don’t think that this is a priority of his or any other member on the Hill. Or maybe it just got put on the back burner. I know things over there have been tense but I know that a warm and fuzzy piece of legislation is probably what both sides need right now.
You see, Bagio wasn’t just a dog to me. He was my partner. When he died last year, I felt that a piece of myself died with him. I had very difficult times in the Army and Bagio helped me through some of those times. He was a light in an other wise very dark room. When I had to leave the kennels due to mental and physical reasons,the one thing that I missed most of all was Bagio. And when I was discharged, that was even worse. But I was able to adopt him and for a year and a half, I gave him the best life I could. I promised him, as I held him when he was dying, that I would make sure that he would be buried along side his brothers and sisters in uniform. He was a soldier just as much as any human and 99.9 % of the time, better! (There were days when he could be a little difficult to handle.) Every soldier deserves a voice and sometimes there are those who don’t have one,so we must be theirs’. I think I told you that I wanted to be governor of Virginia. Well I know that I could do just as good a job on the Hill. The only problem is,as of right now, no one will hire me. I am to much of a liability. With my TBI (and everything that goes along with it) and physical issues, most companies won’t take a chance. But that doesn’t mean I won’t stop fighting for what I know is right. I took the same oath as you and we both carry the Warrior Ethos and the Soldier’s Creed in our hearts. The line, “I will never leave a fallen comrade” and “I will never accept defeat”, still ring true. I know there is support for this cause. I can show you on the Facebook page, Military Working Dogs, there was a post I made on Veteran’s Day last year about Bagio and how I won’t give up on this issue. You should see how many people support this.
The question becomes, what do you think?
Let’s all rally behind Kathleen and push for her efforts to come to fruition. I can’t think of a better scene than her legislative proposal passing the House of Representatives while she sits in the balcony watching — and same in the U.S. Senate. And then to have Kathleen stand beside the President of the United States while this measure is signed into law: Bagio’s Law.
Kathleen, you asked me what I think. Well, I think you are a stellar young woman and the embodiment of a Soldier, a selfless servant and Guardian of the Republic.