By Staff Sgt. C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (Feb. 01, 2006) -- As the president spoke to the nation during the State of the Union address, an Airman sat in the gallery, dressed in blues, displaying the combat medals she earned in Iraq. America's most prominent leaders were gathered in one room on Capitol Hill for the annual speech Jan. 31.
Sitting attentively at her feet, the Airman's German shepherd attended the speech too.
Sen. John Warner, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, meets Rex, a retired military working dog, Tech. Sgt. Jamie Dana, Rex's handler, and Staff Sgt. Michael Dana Jan. 31. Senator Warner was instrumental in pushing through legislation which allowed Sergeant Jamie Dana to adopt Rex following their recovery from injuries they sustained while deployed to Iraq as a military working dog team. Sergeant Jamie Dana, her husband and Rex visited Capitol Hill to thank the members of Congress and Air Force leaders who helped her adopt Rex and to attend President Bush's State of the Union address. The Airmen are both security forces specialists from Peterson Air Force Base, Colo. U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Jim Varhegyi.
Tech. Sgt. Jamie Dana is an Air Force security forces specialist and military working dog handler. In June she was severely injured by an improvised explosive device while on duty in Iraq with her military dog, Rex. The dog also sustained minor injuries.
Because of her injuries, Sergeant Dana will soon leave the Air Force. But she didn't want to leave Rex behind -- they were a team, she said. The president and some members of Congress helped make it possible for her to adopt Rex.
Originally, law prohibited the adoption because Rex was still considered useful to the military. Recognizing the need to do the right thing, congressional leaders quickly drafted legislation, clearing the road to make the adoption possible. With the president's signature, Rex became her dog.
Sergeant Dana, Rex and her husband, Staff Sgt. Michael Dana, visited Capitol Hill here to thank the members of Congress and Air Force leaders who helped her adopt Rex, and to attend the State of the Union address.
"They all were there for me, they never backed down," she said. "They were there for me every step of the way. And, they believed in me and they fought for what I believe in, as I fight for what they believe in."
While on Capitol Hill, Sergeant Dana visited with the congressmen who were key in helping her adopt Rex -- Virginia Sen. John Warner and Reps. John Peterson and John Murtha from her home state of Pennsylvania.
Sergeant Dana said it meant a lot to meet the members of Congress and the military leaders who helped make her adoption possible.
"It means more to me than I can really say, because these people went to bat for me, they fought for me and they made some of my dreams come true," she said. "And just to get the chance to meet them, and shake their hands, and give them the heartfelt 'thank you' that I feel -- that overrides any other feelings I have."
Sergeant Dana hopes to attend veterinary school after she leaves the Air Force. She said she doesn't regret having served in the Air Force and said others should take the opportunity to serve as well.
"Being in the military is not just a job, it gets in your blood," she said. "You really believe what you are fighting for in the military. I for one think everyone should experience the military at least once in their lives. I wouldn't change it for the world. If I could go back to Iraq today, I would. I believe in what we are fighting for, and I believe in our leadership there."