White House Mania: Canines for Service
Last week Canines for Service representatives, Rick and Pat Hairston, had the honor of being at the White House for the first anniversary celebration of Joining Forces. In April 2011, First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden launched Joining Forces, a national initiative to support and honor America’s service members and their families. The initiative aims to educate, challenge, and spark action from all sectors of our society — citizens, communities, schools, non-profits, faith-based institutions, philanthropic organizations, and government — to ensure military families have the support they have earned.
Canines for Veterans, a program of Canines for Service, submitted application and was selected by a panel of judges as a top 20 finalist in the inaugural year of Joining Forces. In March the invitation to the White House was received including a day of touring the east wing and Pentagon followed by a reception hosted by Mrs. Dempsey, the wife of Chairman of the Join Chief of Staff General Dempsey. To say this was an honor is almost an understatement.
Arriving in Washington DC on Monday evening, the Hairston’s had no idea what to expect. As they approached the White House on Tuesday, security was tight and the list of restricted items long. But, having made their way through security, a self-guided tour of the east wing awaited with representatives from the 19 other organizations. Awed to be in the presence of the greatest men and women in the country, the White House was a beauty to behold. Spectacular views, inspiring photographs and paintings and beautiful decorations; truly a treasure to the American people. Upon stepping into the East Room, a calm quiet presence seems to take over and realizing that seven Presidents’ have lain in state in this room leaves one feeling touched by a higher power.
Departing from the White House and onto the Pentagon for a tour led by to members of the Armed Forces, walking backwards 90% of the time, one is again awed by the history contained within those walls. Towards the end of the Pentagon tour, the group was escorted to the area that was destroyed on 9/11. While completely rebuilt, there is a solemn presence in this area of the Pentagon. The day concluded with a briefing that introduced the five winners of the Joining Forces Community Challenge and the People’s Choice winner and then a reception in the Chairman’s dining hall.
Wednesday the security was equally as tight as the prior day and the Joining Forces Community Challenge representatives were escorted to the Blue Room upon arrival and security clearance. On this day, cameras were allowed and we were able to take some photos of the treasures of our country. Mingling with the other winners and sharing our work, connecting to better serve our military members and their families. Anticipation was high and the group was not disappointed when First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden arrived for a group photograph. Following the photograph Mrs. Obama personally greeted and talked with every representative thanking each of us for our work including Service Dog Titus who snuck in a kiss for the First Lady. Gracious is the word to describe Mrs. Obama. She was genuinely interested in each of the people and groups there and wanted to take the time to talk with them. A ceremony was held on the south lawn and while it was a cold spring D.C. day, the excitement of being there kept the worst was worth a few shivers. Nothing can begin to describe the feeling of hearing the National Anthem sung by U.S. Air Force Sgt Angie Johnson on the south lawn while standing outside the White House; chills and tears.
Following the ceremony people were given an opportunity to meet Mrs. Obama. Once again, her graciousness was what struck us. She wanted to take all the time that was necessary to meet and speak with her people. Mrs. Obama’s last stop was to meet Cpt. Leslie N. Smith, U.S. Army, Retired and a recipient of Issac, a Canines for Veterans service dog. Their moment was brief but truly reflected Mrs. Obama’s concern, appreciation and caring for our service members.
The trip to Washington DC was an honor. For us, it is about the people we serve, improving their lives with the gift of a quality trained service dog. But, it is moments like the White House experience that we realize our work has gone beyond our community and is being seen nationally for the quality of the service dogs we are providing and the integrity of our standards that places us in these spotlights.