Rhonda Cornum started out in dogs very young, like many in the sport, showing her first Gordon Setter at age 13. In the 1970s she rose to the pinnacle, showing dogs at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.
But on Tuesday when Cornum enters the ring for three breeds, showing a Gordon Setter, an Irish Red and White Setter and a Brittany, she has an edge few dog owners and handlers could ever boast: the steely nerves of an Army Brigadier General and former Prisoner of War.
Twenty years ago Cornum was the flight surgeon aboard an Army helicopter, conducting a search-and-rescue mission during the Gulf War, trying to rescue downed pilots. Suddenly the copter was hit by enemy fire; she took a bullet and the tail of the copter was sheared off, plunging it to the ground. Cornum survived the attack, but was captured and held for a week until a prisoner exchange.
Cornum says her Army career as a flight surgeon has been “a lot of adventures, and some misadventures,” but she remains active at the Pentagon, serving as director of comprehensive soldier fitness. And throughout her military career she has continued to show dogs at some of the top venues, such as Crufts. The Brittany she will show Tuesday has her military call signal, Bengal Zero Zero, as part of its name, GCh. Dogwood Hollow Bengal Zero Zero.
An avid horse owner, Cornum is asked what it is like to train dogs, soldiers and horses. “There are a lot of similarities with all three,” she says. “In really comes down to rewarding good behavior.”
So which is harder, excelling in the military or on the dog show circuit? “Oh, no question it is dogs. There are so many great dogs and so many tough competitors.”
But on Tuesday, Brig. Gen. Rhonda Cornum will once again enter the fray, fighting the good fight.