We introduced you to some civilian comfort dogs previously. Now, meet their military counterparts. See what a typical working day is like for two dogs. Missouri’s USO Comfort Dog Program has inspired nationwide attention.

Photo credit: Fort Leonard Wood USO Center

Meet Maverick and Apache

In a previous web article, we introduced civilian comfort dogs and explained how they’re trained and how they help folks. Dogs serve in similar ways to members of the military or their families.

Kelly Brownfield loves her big dogs and so do the soldiers and families stationed at Fort Leonard Woods, Mo. As the manager for the Fort Leonard Wood USO (United Service Organization Inc.) Center, she saw an opportunity to use her dogs to spread joy on the base and beyond.

When and how did the USO Missouri Comfort Dogs Program get started?

In 2012, USO Missouri recognized the importance of the undeniable bond between man and man’s best friend and how that bond could help enhance the quality of life of our service members and their family members. We had the perfect dog for the mission. His name was Bandit, a European Blue Great Dane adopted from Springfield, Missouri. After a year of training, he became a certified therapy dog after passing the required testing, and we never looked back. In 2016, we officially named the program the USO Missouri Comfort Dog Program. The program continued to grow, introducing Maverick to our pack in 2016, and a few years later, as Bandit was aging, we decided that retirement was nearing and introduced Apache to our pack in 2020. In 2021, as the popularity of the program was attracting nationwide attention and curiosity from other USO centers, USO Missouri staff members worked alongside the national USO office to provide our knowledge and experience, which has led to what is now known as the USO Canine Program.

Do the dogs serve the Fort Leonard Wood community exclusively?

Maverick and Apache spend a lot of their time on Fort Leonard Wood, but they do travel throughout Missouri frequently to cover requests received from military units. The USO Canine Program helps to break down emotional barriers, allowing our service members and families to succeed and overcome the challenges they face.

Describe a typical day in the working life of Maverick and Apache.

0730: Maverick and Apache go for a car ride and make their way to the USO, making people smile along the way as they see both catching the breeze in their ears.

0830: Maverick and Apache greet service members as they come into the facility for a hot cup of coffee and to relax with the dogs by their side.

0930: The dogs eagerly await the arrival of military spouses who show up at the USO to attend that week’s USO Coffee Connections. Maverick and Apache are excited knowing they will get a few extra belly rubs.

1145: Apache and Maverick spend quality time with service members who are able to come to the USO and enjoy a free lunch. This is where the boys hope the troops will share their food with them.

1330: The boys make their way to the elementary school located on Fort Leonard Wood. Children spend time working on their reading skills and reading to both Apache and Maverick.

1600: The boys spend the late afternoon congratulating service members who have just graduated from Basic Training or Advanced Individual Training and are spending well-deserved time with their families at the USO. After a full day of work, the boys load up and head home where they relax and plan their next day’s adventures at the USO.

What qualities make Maverick and Apache well-suited for their jobs?

Each dog who has ever served has had his own unique personality, strengths, and weaknesses, but one thing they all have in common has been their big hearts and their ability to understand what each person they meet needs at that very moment. Maverick is a six-year-old European Blue Great Dane, weighing in at 175 pounds. He has a peaceful demeanor with a stoic stance and perks up the most when teaming up with children.

Apache is a two-year-old Fawnequin Great Dane, weighing in at 222.5 pounds, and is a true gentle giant. He has a vibrant disposition; he is always the first to greet service members at the doors of the USO, putting an immediate smile on the faces of our patrons as they enter. Many are often fooled by his size and surprised to find how gentle he is as he is known to walk up to patrons at the USO and lay his head across their lap, or gently provide his paw for a child to hold. He lights up when working with service members and he knows when he is needed for more than just a handshake. He has an unbelievable ability to understand what someone needs before even they know it.

USO Missouri is a nonprofit organization that receives no government, military, or United Way funding and is not part of the Department of Defense. All funding comes from individual and corporate donors. If you are interested in learning more about USO Missouri, its programs, or volunteer opportunities, visit USO Missouri.