By Mr. Derek Gean (Leonard Wood)October 13, 2016
A four-legged Fort Leonard Wood celebrity recently made a return trip to the East Coast to help bring comfort to service members and other military-connected organizations.
Bandit the Therapy Dog spent a week representing the USO of Missouri in the Washington D.C. area. Bandit, and his owner, Kelly Brownfield, Fort Leonard Wood USO Center director, visited service members, the Pentagon, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and Arlington National Cemetery. He even participated in the wreath laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier as a wreath from the USO of Missouri was presented.
Brownfield said Bandit's return trip was due to the positive response to last year's tour.
"We felt it only appropriate that we embark on another East Coast Comfort Tour with Bandit. What we didn't anticipate was how our trip was going to expand this year," Brownfield said.
"We wanted to spread cheer to those who needed it the most, our wounded warriors. We wanted everyone we met with to know we care and, no matter what they may be going through, they have the entire Fort Leonard Wood community cheering them on," she said.
Brownfield said Bandit made a "big" impact on those he came into contact with.
"There were so many touching moments throughout the entire trip," Brownfield said. She said Bandit was able to embrace Gold Star Families at Arlington Cemetery and bring "smiles" to the faces of Soldiers at Walter Reed.
At Arlington, Bandit, who received an honorary commission as a second lieutenant in September, provided comfort to Families visiting their loved ones' graves.
At Walter Reed, he visited with patients and staff members alike.
"To close out our trip, we were invited to the Pentagon where not only were we thrilled to see old friends, but we had the honor of spending some time with the Secretary of the Army, Eric Fanning," Brownfield said.
Bandit was even able to reunite with several former Fort Leonard Wood leaders during the Pentagon tour.
Lt. Gen. David Quantock, Army Inspector General, and former Maneuver Support Center of Excellence and Fort Leonard Wood commanding general, was among the "old friends" to welcome Brownfield and Bandit to the Pentagon. Quantock said Bandit's visit was a "kind gesture."
"We all appreciated the break from the daily slog of the Pentagon to have a smile put on our face," he said.
The visit also provided Brownfield and the USO of Missouri the opportunity to brief Fanning about USO programs, particularly the therapy dog program.
Before returning home, Bandit and Brownfield visited the national USO headquarters, meeting leaders and visiting with employees and volunteers. "It felt good to acknowledge their hard work and thank them for all they do for our service men and women. While we were there, we had the honor of meeting with the president and CEO of the USO, JD Crouch," Brownfield said.
Although he was away from Fort Leonard Wood, Bandit was still able to carry out some of his local responsibilities. Every other Tuesday, students at Thayer Elementary read to Bandit to help improve their reading skills. Brownfield said they were able to video chat with the Thayer students while at Walter Reed, so the students still had their meeting.
"We did not want them to miss out on their time with Bandit," Brownfield said. "They were able to read stories to not only Bandit, but to Soldiers at Walter Reed. The smiles on both the troops and the children were priceless."