By Somer Breeze-Hanson
JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. -- When Capt. Jessamyn Jempson returned to Joint Base Lewis-McChord this summer after a year-long deployment to Afghanistan, her best friend wasn't there to greet her.
That's because a special reunion between the Soldier with the 3rd Explosive Ordnance Battalion, and Emma, a 4-year-old Rhodesian Ridgeback, was planned to take place in Los Angeles three days later.
"It was hard to wait," Jempson said.
Jempson arrived home Aug. 5, and flew to California with her mother with an invitation from Queen Latifah, host of the daytime talk show "The Queen Latifah Show."
The reunion on TV wasn't a surprise for Jempson, but rather for Emma, who didn't know her "mom" was home after more than a year apart.
Jempson appeared on stage dressed in her Army service uniform and talked with Queen Latifah about Dogs on Deployment, a nonprofit organization that assists service members in finding volunteers willing to board their animals while deployed. Through the organization Jempson was linked with Silvia Washington, a Spanaway resident and dog lover, who was Emma's caretaker for the past year.
As photos of Emma and a recent video clip were displayed during the show, Jempson became emotional. She was ready to see her dog.
"Should I stop doing this and get you to your dog or what," Queen Latifah said to Jempson.
Washington walked Emma onto the stage, but since Emma had never seen Jempson in her blue service uniform she didn't recognize her right away.
"I had a feeling that was going to happen," Jempson said. "I saw her and I was just overwhelmed."
Once Emma realized it was Jempson, the 80-pound pup jumped on her with excitement and kissed her face, bringing members of the audience to tears.
It was a happy reunion between a service member and her animal, but it also helped advocate responsible pet ownership. After the show aired Sept. 24, Jempson heard from Dogs on Deployment co-founder Alisa Johnson that the organization received 200 responses.
Washington went above the call of duty of foster care for Emma during Jempson's deployment. She managed a Facebook page for Emma, posting status updates, photos and videos to allow Jempson to stay in touch.
"I think Silvia is the hero," Jempson said. "She did all the hard work. Alisa and Shawn (Johnson) put the program together, I deployed but Silvia was the volunteer and that's what the program is all about."
Jempson and Washington prepared for the deployment seven months before she deployed. Emma was introduced to Washington's pack of dogs, and by the time it came to leave, Jempson had peace of mind Emma was comfortable in her surroundings.
Washington has five dogs and encouraged Jempson to find a sister for Emma. While on leave after her deployment, Jempson and Emma traveled to Eastern Washington where there was a new litter of Rhodesian Ridgeback puppies. Emma picked out a puppy and the family brought home 11-week-old Vesper.
"I'm happy to be home with the girls," Jempson said.