NewsAnnouncements : Walter Reed Bethesda Welcomes Sully Aboard

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Walter Reed Bethesda Welcomes Sully Aboard


By Bernard S. Little

WRNMMC Command Communications​

Walter Reed Bethesda welcomed aboard service canine Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Sully H.W. Bush during a ceremony Feb. 27 in the USO Warrior and Family Center on Naval Support Activity Bethesda.

Sully served as 41st U.S. President George H.W. Bush’s personal service dog during the last six months of the former president’s life. Upon his death on Nov. 30, 2018, Bush’s family determined Walter Reed National Military Medical Center would be an appropriate location for Sully, a yellow Labrador, to continue serving the nation.

Following the former president’s death, Sully returned to America’s VetDogs, who initially trained him as a service dog, for additional training to serve at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, the world’s largest integrated military medical center, also known as the flagship of military medicine.

Using animal-assisted interventions, the facility dog program at WRNMMC provides interactive care for patients and staff, helping to reduce stress and increase overall feelings of well-being among patients and staff. Facility dogs at WRNMMC average 2,500 contacts and more than 200 working hours per month, collectively. Through program tracking and monitoring, Walter Reed Bethesda determined that for every hour a facility dog and their trained handler works, they have the opportunity to create positive patient experience for an average of 12 patients and their families.

Navy Capt. (Dr.) Mark Kobelja, WRNMMC director, said it didn’t come as a surprise to him that Bush left Sully, 2 ½ years old, to serve at WRNMMC. He explained that the late president, a former Navy pilot who served in World War II, as well as his son, the 43rd U.S. President George W. Bush, while in office, often visited wounded warriors and their families receiving care at the former National Naval Medical Center and former Walter Reed Army Medical Center, WRNMMC’s predecessors.

USO President and Chief Executive Officer Elaine Rogers added that Prescott Bush, father of George H.W. Bush and to whom the USO center at NSAB, home to WRNMMC, s dedicated, “was asked by President Franklin Roosevelt to raise the money to start the USO. In today’s dollars, it was billions.” The USO center at NSAB opened in 2014.

John Miller, president and CEO of America’s VetDogs, called WRNMMC “a great place for Sully, and we could not think of a better place or a better group of folks to care for [him]. I wouldn’t have necessarily believed it until I saw it with my own eyes the transformative impact the dogs have [on people]. In some cases, it’s instantaneous. The second they see the dog, there’s a smile on [the person’s] face. In some cases, it takes a little longer.

Those welcoming Sully aboard also included his new WRB facility dog team members including retired Navy Rear Adm. Bobbi, Air Force Lt. Col. Goldie, Army Capt. Annie Fox, Navy Lt. Ellie Mae, Army Sgt. Truman, and Marine Corps Sgt. Dillion.

Sully received a personalized oath of enlistment, which stated in part, “Do you affirm as a hospital corpsman in the U.S. Navy that you will support, comfort and cheer our warriors and their families: active duty and retired; that you will embrace our staff and bear unconditional love and solace, especially on busy days…that you will faithfully discharge the duties to provide joy, love and nurturing for our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and their families?”

After Kobelja advanced Sully to the rank of HM2, Sully was outfitted with his new military uniform, tailored by Lily Burch at WRNMMC. Burch, a nurse in WRNMMC’s Maternal Child Nursing Department, volunteers her time to design and create the array of military uniforms worn by the WRNMMC facility dog team.

Sully’s Navy uniform was made from the cloth of the uniform worn by former Navy hospital corpsman Evan Sisley, who served two deployments with the U.S. Marine Corps in Afghanistan and Eastern Europe. He then served as former President George H.W. Bush’s personal aide and senior medic. Sisley came to know Sully while they both cared for and supported the former president during his later years.

Sisley recalled the joy on the former president’s face as he looked out the window of his home and saw Sully playing with one of Bush’s other family dogs. “He was smiling and it reminded him of his younger days.”

“He has one of the biggest hearts of any dog I’ve ever met,” Sisley said. “I think he’s going to bring a lot of love and joy [to WRNMMC].”​