Passing leash from old dog to young pup
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa, Japan -- As the audience came to attention, the retirement ceremony began. The jingling of dog tags from their collars was the only sound heard as the two being recognized proceeded to the center of the room.
The III Marine Expeditionary Force Band mascot, Staff Sgt. Chopper IV, retired and symbolically passed the leash to his successor, Pvt. Chopper V, during a ceremony April 25 at the III MEF Band hall on Camp Foster.
The Okinawa-raised, mixed-breed dog served as the band’s mascot for more than 10 years and played a vital role in ceremonies and parades held by the band, according Cpl. Robert G. McGarity, a musician with the III MEF Band.
“Everyone loves to see him; he’s a really friendly dog, and it helps with the relationship (in the community),” said McGarity. “The community members love concerts when we bring the dog.”
The band received its first dog in 1974 after Maj. Gen. Norman W. Gourley, the commanding general of 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, presented a golden retriever to the 1st MAW Band. The dog soon enlisted into the Marine Corps and was adopted as the band’s official mascot.
The 1st MAW band merged in 1978 with the 3rd Marine Division Band to create the III MEF Band, and was assigned to Camp Foster, with orders for the mascot to follow.
The band continued the lineage of golden retriever mascots until a mixed breed was selected in 2002 and subsequently named Pvt. Chopper IV. He was promoted several times throughout his career, attaining the rank of staff sergeant. Upon retirement, he was awarded the Navy-Marine Corps Achievement Medal.
As Chopper IV grew older, the band decided it was time for him to retire. Although, the Marines are excited for their new puppy, many old friends are sad to be parting ways, according to Sgt. Joshua T. Hulett, a musician and canine noncommissioned officer with the band.
“It’s a sad day for me and all of us,” said Hulett. “A few of the Marines were crying when they said their goodbyes. Not many units have a mascot, so it is special here. He offers a major morale boost because everyone gets to play with him. They get to come in the morning and see him smiling and wagging his tail. Having a dog here is like a little piece of home. I think that is the most important thing for the Marines and their morale.”
A full-bred golden retriever puppy, Chopper V, was selected in November 2012 by the band members to follow in the paw prints of the III MEF Band mascots before him. The musicians have high hopes for the young dog as the new mascot of the band, according to Hulett.
“We hope that we can get Chopper V trained well,” said Hulett. “He is not just an ordinary house dog; he has to be able to be trained to be in the public’s eye. Now that we have a new dog, he will be able to go out and interact with the public.”
Editor’s Note: Sadly, a day after his retirement, Staff Sgt. (Ret.) Chopper IV passed away of natural causes.