Meet the First-Ever USO Canine Volunteer of the Year Nominees

Whether it’s offering a helpful paw or a listening ear, USO Canine Volunteers play an immeasurably important role in carrying out the USO’s mission at various USO Centers around the world. With the help of these special, four-legged volunteers (all of them certified therapy dogs), the people who serve and their military family members know that they not only have a place, but also a friend - albeit a furry one - to turn to in challenging times.

The USO is honored to recognize just a few of these incredible USO Volunteers by announcing the inaugural 2023 USO Canine Volunteer of the Year nominees.

Apache

Following in the pawprints of those USO Missouri therapy dogs that came before him, Apache has been working as a therapy dog for the USO officially since 2021, when he passed his therapy dog testing at just one year old alongside his owner, Kelly Brownfield. Apache’s giant stature of 231 pounds truly embraces the “gentle giant” nickname that Great Danes are known for.

Like many of our USO Canines, Apache wears many hats as a volunteer at USO Missouri, including giving service members a touch of home and bonding with military children who are often experiencing many changes in their lives. | Photo credit USO Photo

Apache can be found day-to-day at USO Missouri, greeting our service members and giving them a touch of home much needed. We often hear his presence is just what they need to get them through the day. Apache’s touch reaches beyond the USO Center in his work helping service members on suicide watch, as well as assisting injured troops rehabilitate. When he is not with the people who serve, you can find him working alongside our military children, lending an ear as they read to him, or to be their rock to lean on during difficult times. No matter the situation, he is always by our military community members' side.

Irma

Irma is one of the USO's first USO Canine Volunteers to work overseas. She currently volunteers with her owner Natasha at the USO Warrior Center in Landstuhl, Germany, as well as throughout the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center community and the Ramstein Passenger Terminal. Irma first began volunteering in February 2023 and since then has accumulated over 45 hours of spreading love and joy to our service members.

As a USO Canine Volunteer at the USO Warrior Center in Landstuhl, Germany, Irma plays a huge part in spreading smiles and boosting the morale of recovering service members. | Photo credit USO Photo

Irma began her USO Volunteer journey with the USO Warrior Center. She visits the hospital in Landstuhl every Friday to spread love and joy to the patients who are receiving in-patient medical care. Once finished with her rounds, Irma arrives at the USO Warrior Center to spend time with our wounded, ill and injured service members. We can’t begin to tell you how she has impacted these service members and the stories we hear about their joy from seeing her.

Whether it is relief from the stress of doctor appointments, long flights, the sadness of the pup they just left at home, or the upcoming anxiety they are about to endure, Irma is always there to put a smile on their faces. 

Maverick

Every day for the past 6 years, you can find Maverick welcoming our troops at the USO Missouri Center, providing them with that touch of home that they yearn for. His exceptional intuition allows him to empathize with their emotions, and his work with service members on suicide watch demonstrates the true essence of unconditional love as he guides them toward healing.

For the past six years, Maverick has been a rock at USO Missouri for service members in needed of emotional support. | Photo credit USO Photo

When Maverick is not supporting our troops, he dedicates himself to some of the most courageous individuals of all – our military children.

Maverick accompanies them during the burial ceremonies of their fallen family members, serving as a steadfast source of strength during these challenging times. Within schools, he has become a beloved presence, offering children support as they practice their reading skills, and providing a compassionate ear to help them navigate difficult situations such as deployments, loss, illness and more. 

Pepper

Pepper Bryant – also known as Pepperoni, Pepperoncini and Peppie Girl – is an incredible asset to our USO team and military community, not just here in Ansbach, Germany, but all over Europe! Pepper volunteers every Tuesday afternoon with USO Ansbach and has accumulated 146.25 hours so far (and counting). Pepper is the USO Center’s best greeter and makes it her personal mission to give an individual “hello” to everyone who comes through the doors. As a trained therapy and emotional support dog, she spends her time taking care of stressed service members, cheerful kids and everyone in between.

From being a greeter to being a trained therapy and emotional support dog, Pepper has made herself one of USO Ansbach’s most popular volunteers. | Photo credit USO Photo

Pepper’s sweet and loving demeanor is great for USO events as well, such as the "Pooch Smooch Booth" on Valentine’s Day. Because of her hard work, Pepper and her owner Amanda have gained some notoriety in Ansbach and beyond. The pair is recognized all over the Ansbach community, not just on base, have popped in to see their friends over at Ramstein Passenger Terminal and were even spotted traveling in Italy by some of USO Ansbach Center regulars. On every one of these occasions, people recognize Pepper with an excited shout: “There’s the USO dog! That’s Pepper!”

You can vote for your favorite 2023 USO Canine Volunteer of the Year Nominee.

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