Recieved this great story via the Marines' "All-Hands" group:
General's gift to squadron lifts spirits, boosts moralePicture of Melissa is included in the Extended Section of this post.
Story by Staff Sgt. Houston F. White Jr.
AL TAQQADUM, Iraq(May 4, 2004) -- The unconditional love and loyalty of an 11-week-old Iraqi puppy named Melissa has softened the hearts of the battle-hardened "Rhinos" of Marine Wing Support Squadron 374, Marine Wing Support Group 37.
"My original intention was to give (Melissa's mother) Luci to Lt. Col. Leppelmeier in Taqqadum as a squadron mascot," said Maj. Gen. Amos, "because he'd lost two Marines early on and the unit was right in the middle of a pretty tough mission there."
After witnessing the stubborn and independent nature of Luci, due to her rough upbringing in Baghdad, the general decided that Luci's offspring would be a wiser selection for the squadron mascot.
Luci was left without a family when an Army unit departed Baghdad, said Maj. Gen. Amos. This presented the general with the perfect opportunity to assume responsibility for the courageous dog and her sole surviving puppy from a litter of five.
"Luci was working with Army Special Forces on the streets of Baghdad and over a period of time, she kept following them around whenever they went on patrols," the general said. "Luci was credited with saving their lives a couple of times because of her ability to sniff out an ambush and bark to alert them."
When 3rd MAW went into Baghdad about a month and a half ago to drop off some wounded Marines, Luci and the pup were brought out to the airplane and were taken back to Al Asad, the general said.
Following the general's decision to send Melissa to Al Taqqadum, the plan was quickly put in motion.
"Having Melissa around keeps my morale high," said 24-year-old New York City native Lance Cpl. Pamela O'Donnell, operations clerk. "She's just a happy addition to the family and she brings a smile to everybody's face."
"That puppy is absolutely incredible," added Staff Sgt. Sandra D. Magallanes, wire chief, and Cody, Wyo., native. "She's intelligent, she's a fighter and Melissa is really a representation of the job that we're doing over here."
Perhaps no Marine is as smitten with the precocious pup as her commanding officer-turned-adopted father.
"I know that having her around has changed the atmosphere around the unit, because everybody knows that she lives here in the compound and everybody pets her. She might get in their way sometimes or gnaw at their feet, but no matter what, Melissa is the one little distraction that reminds them of their pet at home," said Leppelmeier.
"Melissa is great. She knows how to play me like a fiddle," he chuckled. "She's really changed my whole world and helped me out a lot. She's just like a daughter to me and I can't imagine waking up and not having her around."