Brigadier general from Vienna heads to N.Y. on a canine mission

Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 14, 2011; 11:50 PM

I am about to reveal a shocking truth about one of the Army's most macho officers.

The world knows this brigadier general as a surgeon and pilot who was shot down from the sky in the Persian Gulf War and taken prisoner with two broken arms and a gunshot wound to the back.

Besides her turn as a war hero, Brig. Gen. Rhonda Cornum, 56, is also a wife and mother in Vienna. But that's not the shocking part. That's the stuff she shrugs off as normal: a working mom juggling job, family and enemy combatants.

No, what is truly outrageous about this woman is what she'll be doing Tuesday in New York City.

Expensive shampoo, blow-drying and a flat iron are involved. There will be dead-serious primping. She'll be strutting before a panel of judges. There will be a stage name: Amber.

Munroc Forest Amber, to be precise. That's the name of Cornum's dog, a Gordon setter with floppy ears, soulful eyes and an impressive pedigree.

On Tuesday at noon, Cornum will trot around Madison Square Garden with Amber, hoping to catch the eye of those unflappable judges at the Westminster Kennel Club show - the Super Bowl, Oscars and Grammys of the dog world.

The general will be a newbie at this level of competition, a novice amid the veteran, thick-ankled mummykins kissing their pampered terriers.

Amber is no coddled terrier. She is a lot like the war veteran herself.

She's a Gordon setter - a breed Cornum settled on when she was 13 after researching the perfect kind of dog with the tenacity of a future doctor and Army general. The breed is fiercely loyal and an amicable hunting dog. Think Irish setter with black and red fur.

With a lean, athletic stride and long, wavy hair, the owner and dog resemblance thing is almost comical as the two reunited on the couch one recent evening after Cornum's long day of work at the Pentagon.

Cornum doesn't get too doofy when she's with her dog. Well, maybe there's some kissing and licking and "Just looooook at that face" cooing.

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