When the report of a shooting came in over the radio last September at the Navy Yard in Washington, Master at Arms Charles Pitt initially assumed it was a drill.
"These things don't really happen here," said the Annapolis-area resident.
Pitt got into a vehicle with his 5-year-old black German shepherd, Olli, and headed to the site of the call, discovering it was all too real. Gunman Aaron Alexis, a computer technician for a private Navy contractor, was on a shooting rampage that left 13 people dead, including himself, and injured three others.
"It was a terrible day," said Pitt, 28. "In a sense, we train our whole lives for this."
This past week Pitt was among two dozen responders, law enforcement officers, and Navy personnel recognized for heroism for their response during the shooting. The ceremony, which took place at the Navy Yard on June 23, also honored the 12 people who were killed.
Pitt received a Navy and Marine Corps Medal, the Navy's second-highest award for noncombat action. Pitt was serving as a kennel supervisor at the time of the shooting, working with dogs such as Olli who sniff out bombs and people.
He recalled helping one officer who was shot. "I carried him outside and then re-entered the building," he said.
He and Olli then began looking for the suspect. They didn't find him, but Pitt said he was proud of the way his dog behaved; Olli detected the presence of people barricaded behind locked doors and scratched on them to alert Pitt.
Those people turned out to be Navy personnel hiding from the shooter.
Pitt, who grew up in Sparks in Baltimore County, graduated from Hereford High School in 2004. He joined the military police in August 2006, and said he has served all over the world, including Bahrain and Honduras. He said he's been in the nation's capital for the past four years and never expected that that would be the place where his life would be in jeopardy.
Pitt's medal recognizes him for risking his life in an attempt to save others. Other officers who received the medal Monday included Master at Arms Denise Torres, Capt. Timothy Crone, Chief Master at Arms Brandon Denison, Lt. Cmdr. Michael Melta, Capt. Christopher Mercer, Master at Arms Dominic Outlaw, and Capt. Edward Zawislak. All of them had a role in responding to the Navy Yard shooting.
At Monday's ceremony, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus told the award recipients, "You are the embodiment of Semper Fortis — always courageous — and Semper Fidelis — always faithful," referring to the Navy and Marine Corps' mottoes.
Heroes like Olli might go unsung, but not in the eyes of his handler.
"He couldn't have responded any better," Pitt said. "We like to joke that he's kind of a lazy dog, but he could feel the adrenaline in the air and he gave 110 percent."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun