By Bernard S. Little
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
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
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.”