UPDATE: Be sure to see Matt's story above for more details on DJ and the team; I just received info that DJ is loaded onto the plane departing Kuwait and will arrive Thursday morning (UAL FLT 092) in Dulles Airport, Washington, DC. Laughing Wolf is escorting.
What a great way to start the New Year!
As many of you know, one of our own BlackFive members, Laughing Wolf, has been on an embed in Iraq over the holiday season. Stories that he's gathering will be posted soon, as he's on his way back.
But what is EXTRA special about his return is that he's agreed to help bring back a very special piece of love from Iraq. A couple weeks ago, I received this email from an LT based in Iraq:
To whom it may concern,
I am a platoon leader for an infantry battalion. On May 19th of this year six of my soldiers were killed during combat operations. One of those soldiers, Alex, enjoyed playing with the dogs on one of our FOBs. His mother found many photos of the animals in his personal effects. She has been trying for some time to get a contractor to bring one of the dogs back to the states. We adopted one of the dogs for force protection at our company outpost. The dog had a puppy. I would like very much to transport the dog back to the states for Alex's mother. The biggest hurdle is getting the dog out of Baghdad. Is there any help your airline can provide? I am sorry to say that my unit will be returning to the states very soon. I only recently found out about Alex's mom and her goals and want to help in any way I can.
Needless to say, this got our attention very quickly. Supporting the families and survivors goes to the top of the list around here. I've had similar requests before, but those asking were not asking for any similar reasons, and they were seeking assistance of animal rescue groups, who flatly refused to have anything to do with it (partly due to summer heat- none would sponsor an animal traveling in over 80-degree heat.. Comment withheld).
I immediately emailed our friends at Soldiers Angels, enlisted Matt's help, and asked LW if he could assist while over there. Bless him, he's come thru fantastically.
DJ (the puppy/dog) is getting a final bath this evening; and there appear to be no problems with my linking up with Gryphon Airlines in Baghdad on 2 January 2008 to fly to Kuwait to link up with my 1240 am flight to Dulles on the 3rd.
Patti, at Soldiers Angels, in typical fashion has helped tremendously, and this has turned out (so far!) to be going smoothly.
Laughing Wolf, with DJ in tow, lands in Dulles the morning of the 3d of January.
LW has sent the following to be posted, with much more to follow:
Operation Homecoming: Bringing DJ Home
The dogs at COP Annihilator were special to Private First Class Alejandro "Alex" Varela; and, to the dogs, Alex and the soldiers of Alpha Company, were special as well. Adopted as a force protection dog, one female would walk with the soldiers as they moved out on foot to observation posts, almost as if she were wanting to be sure that they made it safely. This dog, and others, helped lift the spirits of Alex and other soldiers, as well as improving their security.
On May 19, 2007, Alex and six comrades (five soldiers, one interpreter) were killed when their Bradley armored vehicle was hit by an anti-tank mine. In going through his possessions, Alex's mother, Rinda Pope of Orangevale, CA, was struck by the photographs of her son with the dogs. She began efforts to get one of the dogs, but was not having any success. Lt. Tom Hickey, Alex's platoon leader, found out about her efforts from another soldier, Specialist Matthew Alford, and began working to get her something much more tangible than a letter or medal: one of the dogs that he had enjoyed so much.
While it wasn't possible to send the official force protection dog, that dog, BP for Bradley Position, had recently had puppies. Now old enough to travel, DJ as she is known, needed a sponsor to escort her back on a civilian flight. The platoon's efforts led them to contact Gryphon Air.
The result of that contact was a partnership between Gryphon Airlines, BlackFive, Soldier's Angels, and Prudent Publishing (parent company of The Gallery Collection to escort DJ to the U.S. C. Blake Powers, who posts at BlackFive as Laughing Wolf. was to be doing an embed over Christmas made possible by the support of Prudent Publishing, and he agreed to be the escort. All embeds from Blackfive milblog also serve as representatives of Soldier's Angels. Soldier's Angels purchased an airline approved travel kennel and necessary supplies, which were carried as luggage to Baghdad. The PetSmart in Lafayette, IN, also contributed some chew toys to the effort.
DJ is named for another platoon member, Travis Dowd, in a bit of teasing humor. DJ was the only puppy to survive in her litter, and as a result ate rather well. So well, in fact that she got very large -- too large for her feet. His platoon mates like to kid the well-developed Dowd, so they started calling the puppy Dowd Junior, or DJ for short. She is a typical puppy who chases her own tail, is well into the chewing phase of teething, and in good health. The platoon has been working on housebreaking her, and on spoiling her as much as possible, even though no toe, sock, or boot is safe from DJ.
DJ is scheduled to arrive in Washington DC on January 3, 2008, where she will be handed over to Pat Jarrett upon clearing Customs and entry.
Staff Sgt. Christopher Moore, 28, of Alpaugh, Calif.
Sgt. Jean P. Medlin, 27, of Pelham, Ala.
Spc. David W. Behrle, 20, of Tipton, Iowa.
Spc. Joseph A. Gilmore, 26, of Webster, Fla.
Pfc. Travis F. Haslip, 20, of Ooltewah, Tenn.
Pfc. Alexander R. Varela, 19, of Fernley, Nev.
1st Platoon, Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, Fort Hood, Texas
We'll update as soon as we have material. If anyone is in the Dulles area, let us know...