Black Shoe Dog at Sea: Wiley and the USS Stephen W. Groves

It’s no secret that everybody loves dogs. A recent post on our Facebook site led us to discover the interesting story behind a rare ship’s mascot aboard USS Stephen W. Groves on her final deployment.
Wiley aboard Stephen W. Groves, 2011

Wiley aboard Stephen W. Groves, 2011

By Matthew T. Eng

You can’t deny that we like to keep things on a tight schedule.

Each Tuesday, NHF posts content on our social media pages highlighting where the history of the United States Navy and popular culture has connected over the years (#NavyHistoryinPopularCulture). On Thursdays, better known as “TBT: Past vs. Present,” we bridge connections of naval history from the Navy of yesterday and today. Using thematic concepts and images from our Navy’s illustrious history, our fans choose which instance from past or present they feel is best suited to the question. Would you rather go on a Navy exploring expedition with Captain Charles Wilkes or Admiral Richard Byrd? Our fans decided they would prefer to chill out with Admiral Byrd in the Antarctic. Perhaps everyone is a little tired of the oppressive heat right now!

[pullquote]“His selfless and loyal service provided fellow Sailors with fond memories of life back at home, a much-appreciated boost in morale and the occasional reminder to smile.”[/pullquote]

With workflow resembling a small skyscraper on my desk, I needed a quick idea to post on our social media pages for last week’s edition of  “TBT: Past vs. Present.” I checked the time on my phone, which has a picture of my wife and dog on the home screen. That’s it! What about dogs and the Navy? I know there is a plethora of information on the internet where dogs became ship mascots in times of peace and war. Most of those images stop around the end of the Second World War. What about the present day? I contacted Laura Orr at the Hampton Roads Naval Museum to see if she had any pictures that might relate to the subject. She sent me an adorable picture of a cute Jack Russell/Shih Tzu mix dressed up in service blues. I thought the image was a perfect portrayal of the “present,” and quickly included the image on the post.

Image Credit: Matthew Rick

Image Credit: Matthew Rick

When I first saw the picture, I assumed the pup was dressed up and brought aboard for photos before the ship left for deployment. The only description I had was, “Wiley aboard USS Stephen W. Groves, 2011.” Within an hour, the comment section on our feed started to unravel the story. As it turns out, Wiley is a real “salty dog!” The story behind the ship’s last deployment is as interesting as Wiley’s service to the Navy. Thanks in large part to the information and images provided by Commander Matthew Rick and LT Aubra Thomas, Wiley’s story can now become true naval history.

Petty Officer Second Class Dog Wiley Jarvis Thomas in his dress whites for homecoming in July 2011. (Photo Credit: Matthew Rick)

Petty Officer Second Class Dog Wiley Jarvis Thomas in his dress whites for homecoming in July 2011. (Photo Credit: Matthew Rick)

Commander Matthew Rick must be a big fan of dogs. Prior to her final deployment to the African coast in 2011, the Stephen W. Groves CO explained the history behind ship mascots to his shipmates. According to LT Thomas, she and several Junior Officers hatched a plan to resurrect the tradition. They collectively “came up with a proposal for CDR Rick, stating how noteworthy a mascot could be on a ship nowadays.” CDR Rick endorsed the idea. Thomas adopted Wiley and medically screened him with the Veterinarian. Fit for duty, Wiley was ready for his new adventure.

Seaman Wiley Jarvis Thomas departed with USS Stephen W. Groves in January 2011 for a six-month deployment in the 6th Fleet AoR. Her previous deployments during her thirty-year history took the ship on various counter drug, anti-piracy, and humanitarian missions around the world.

P02 Wiley Thomas, USN (Ret.)

P02 Wiley Thomas, USN (Ret.)

Wiley’s first (and only) deployment gave him a taste of life few other dogs living today can say they lived. Yet Wiley made up for his smaller “sea legs” in no time. During the deployment, Wiley circumnavigated Africa, seeing exotic ports and countries along the continent’s coastline. Wiley was aboard the ship throughout various counter-piracy operations. He provided the sailors with much-needed amusement and relief during those tense times. Thomas explains:

“His selfless and loyal service provided fellow Sailors with fond memories of life back at home, a much-appreciated boost in morale and the occasional reminder to smile.  Wiley remained ever vigilant and would come wagging to the rescue if someone was having a bad day.  He understood his duties and performed them with the utmost devotion!!”

Wiley returned to Florida in July 2011. He left the ship a “seasoned and salty” Petty Officer 2nd Class. He is currently enjoying his retirement with the Thomas family in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. That does not mean he plans to rest easy. Now four years old, Wiley continues to enrich the lives of others. Wiley hopes to extend a helping paw in his retirement years as a therapy dog at the local VA hospital. Although his ship is now decommissioned, I am sure his memories still gravitate to his time at sea. Thanks for keeping the watch, Wiley.

Have you deployed on a ship with a ship mascot? Let us know in the comment section or email at

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  1. Brian Groves


    I hope that the story of PO2 Wiley received a lot of attention. As a member of the sponsor family of USS STEPHEN W GROVES (FFG 29) I enjoyed communicating with CDR Rick and receiving various photographs of Wiley as they made their way through the ship’s final deployment. Thanks for posting!

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