By Rockland County Executive Ed Day
I’m not usually one to heap praise on big Hollywood productions. But I can’t help but feel proud of one of the top movies in theaters across the nation right now: “Megan Leavey.”
This true story of a young woman from Valley Cottage whom I have had the pleasure of meeting shows so much that’s good about our young people, our county and our country.
It also demonstrates Rockland County’s never-ending commitment to our military veterans – even those on four legs. That commitment continues uninterrupted after the recent retirement of the longtime director of the Rockland County Veterans Service Agency, Jerry Donnellan.
For those of you who don’t know the story of Megan Leavey, here’s the short version: She grew up in Rockland County and graduated from Nyack High School, where she made a name for herself as a school softball star.
Like so many young people, she bounced around a bit after graduating high school in 2001. We all know what happened in September of that year and how the terror attack on the World Trade Center changed so many lives.
Megan found herself working in Nanuet, by coincidence near the U.S. Army Recruiting Office.
Or maybe it wasn’t so much of a coincidence: She enlisted in the Marines.
After she completed her training, she joined the Military Police K-9 program.
It was there that Megan met Rex, a somewhat ornery German Shepherd who was being trained to detect explosives.
The two became partners and carried out more than 100 missions in Iraq searching for explosives. Both were seriously injured on their final mission.
Fast forward a couple of years. Megan is honorably discharged, but Rex is still in service.
Word reaches Megan that Rex is ill and likely to be euthanized.
Who does she turn to for help getting permission to adopt the four-legged veteran?
The Rockland County Veterans Service Agency and then-director Jerry Donnellan, as well as other lawmakers, who helped her cut through reams of military-grade red tape.
She and Rex were reunited in 2012 and lived together in Valley Cottage until the dog died several months later.
The next year, my predecessor as County Executive and Jerry Donnellan presented Megan Leavey with the Rockland County Freedom Award.
While her request for help adopting a dog was a bit unusual, it shows the length Rockland County will go to serving our veterans.
Jerry Donnellan helped Megan Leavey the same way he has helped hundreds, maybe thousands, of veterans in Rockland over the years he led the Rockland Veterans Service Agency.
Jerry served both his county and this county well. He has taken a leave of absence and will formally retire at the end of the year.
We thank him for all his years of service.
And we want to reassure all Rockland County veterans that the agency continuing its important work under the direction of Deputy Director Susan Branam, a former Army captain.
In fact, just this week we co-sponsored the 2017 PFC Joseph P. Dwyer Veteran Peer Support Conference organized by BRiDGES in New City
Deputy County Executive Guillermo Rosa, a retired Lieutenant Colonel in the Army, was a speaker.
Rockland County will continue to do all it can for its heroes, from assistance with paperwork and accessing services, to help adopting a military dog.
You have my word.