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Operation Puppy Love - Bringing DJ Home

[See the end of the post for an important update]

Operation Puppy Love - Prologue

Meet a few heroes.  The men of 1st Platoon, Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, from Fort Hood, Texas, were on patrol in Iraq in 2007.


First up is Staff Sergeant Christopher Moore who was born 14 June 1978 and raised in Bakersfield, California.  He played high school baseball and won a scholarship as a center fielder.  After graduating high school, however, Christopher chose to serve his country and enlisted in the Army in May of 1997.  During his career SSG Moore served for three years with the 101st Airborne Division, four years with the 82nd Airborne Division, two years with the III Armored Corps and finally a year with the 1st Cavalry Division.  He deployed to Iraq for Operation Iraqi Freedom II and later mobilized for the hurricane Katrina relief efforts in Louisiana.  SSG Moore arrived to Alpha company in March of 2005 and has served with the "Annihilators" in a variety of positions including Bradley Fighting Vehicle section leader, dismount squad leader, company master driver and company retention NCO.  In October of 2006 SSG Moore deployed with Alpha company and the 1-5 CAV "Black Knights" to Operation Iraqi Freedom 06-08.  His former wife is Kindell Michelle Moore of Nolanville, TX and they have three children - Ashlyn, 9, Kailyn, 7 and Taylor 4.  SSG Moore talks about his little girls all of the time, non-stop.  Chris Moore also spent his last weekend on leave before deploying as a volunteer - painting the house of an elderly woman.


Next is Sergeant Jean Medlin was born 26 July 1979 in Alabama.  Jean graduated from Hewitt Trussville High School.  In October of 1998, Jean enlisted with the Marine Corps and served with honor for several years as an United States Marine.  While in the Marine Corps, SGT Medlin served overseas in Kosovo as a member of the NATO peacekeeping forces.  After a brief hiatus as a civilian, SGT Medlin enlisted with the Army in January of 2006 and was assigned to A CO 1-5 CAV 1CD.  Upon joining Alpha Company SGT Medlin immediately began training with the "Annihilators" as a team leader.  In October of 2006 SGT Medlin deployed with Alpha Company and the 1-5 CAV "Black Knights" to Iraq for Operation Iraqi Freedom 06-08.  SGT Medlin loves, LOVES, his family and Alabama football.


Third is SPC David Behrle who was born 06 March 1987 and raised in Tipton, Iowa.  He played football at Tipton High School.  After graduating from high school David joined the Army in June of 2005.  Upon completion of basic training at Ft. Benning, GA SPC Behrle was assigned to A CO 1-5 CAV 1CD.  He arrived to Alpha Company in October of 2005 and immediately began training as a Bradley Fighting Vehicle Driver with the "Annihilators".  SPC Behrle deployed with Alpha Company and the 1-5 CAV "Black Knight" battalion to Operation Iraqi Freedom 06-08 in October of 2006.  SPC Behrle, when not in Iraq, loves to find the biggest meal available on a menu and then consume said meal - with a coke.


This is Specialist Joseph Gilmore who was born 8th of August 1980 in Plant City, Florida. SPC Joseph Gilmore joined the Army as a Combat Medic on the 23rd of August, 2005. Joseph attended Basic Training at Fort Benning, GA and AIT at Fort Sam Houston, TX. In April 2006, Joseph was assigned to Headquarter and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, Black Knights. Joseph served as a Line Company Medic for FSC, E co, A Co, and the Scout Platoon.  Specialist Gilmore and his wife, Evangeline, have three children - Victoria, Vanessa, and Joseph.


Say hello to PFC Travis Haslip who was born on 21 March 1987 in Pontiac Michigan, and raised in Tennessee.  After high school Travis joined the Army in December of 2005.  Upon completion of basic training at Ft. Benning, GA PFC Haslip was assigned to A CO 1-5 CAV 1CD.  He arrived to Alpha Company in June of 2006 and immediately began training with the "Annihilators" in preparation for deployment to Iraq.  In October of 2006 PFC Haslip deployed with Alpha Company and the 1-5 CAV "Black Knights" to Iraq for Operation Iraqi Freedom 06-08.  SPC Haslip overcomes and adapts to anything.  He, Varela (below), and another soldier dug a trench between their rooms so they could hook up their X-Boxes. During Christmas 2006, it was very muddy and they built a mud "snow" man out of gravel, mud, and candy to celebrate the holiday without snow.


PFC Alexander Varela was born 29 January 1988 and raised in California.  Alexander is an avid paintball competitor and turned his passion into commitment.  He enlisted in the Army in April of 2006 and upon completion of basic training was assigned to A CO 1-5 CAV.  PFC Varela arrived to Alpha company in August of 2006 and immediately began training with the "Annihilators" in preparation for deployment to Iraq.  In October 2006 PFC Varela deployed to Iraq with Alpha company and the 1-5 CAV "Black Knights" for Operation Iraqi Freedom 06-08.  PFC Varela loves photography and is always playing with the new puppies that had been born at FOB Hawk.

To know more about the character of the men in the squad, you should know about one of their patrols in Ameriyah, Iraq.  From an official report:

    ...SSG Christopher Moore noticed local nationals hurrying towards his security position. He alerted the patrol leader. Lieutenant Hickey moved to his position and dismounted. An Iraqi man, Mohammed, was running towards the American patrol holding a small bloody child in his arms. A 7.62 round had fallen out of the sky and struck her right temple. The round had passed along the side of her face and buried itself in her neck. She was blue and her eyes were cloudy.

    Without any hesitation the soldiers of First Platoon rushed Mohammed, his wife, and the toddler’s grandmother into the back of a Bradley Fighting Vehicle. In less than two minutes the medic SPC Elliot Sibille began rendering medical aid to the child and evacuation. SGT Jason Caudle aided the BFV with immediate support and the two vehicles rushed to Riva Ridge. The Soldiers of First Platoon executed their duties flawlessly. PFC Alexander Varela the Bradley Driver and SPC Andrew Tarasar the M1114 driver merit special recognition for managing the distance to Riva Ridge in three minutes through traffic and serpentine traffic control points. In no more than five minutes the evacuation was complete.

    The patrol then evacuated the little girl and her family to the CSH in the International Zone where the bullet was surgically removed. The platoon showed maturity and comprehension of the company’s inherent mission to engage the Iraqi citizens in a positive manner. The Soldiers spent the time at the CSH speaking to Mohammed and assuring him that the US would do whatever it could to help his little girl. SSG Moore personally sat with Mohammed and spoke with him not as a soldier but father to father, one of his daughters in the States is also three years old.

    The platoon followed up with the family three days later. The father, Mohammed came onto the street in order to meet and thank the patrol. Mohammed had tears in his eyes and expressed his thanks to the platoon. He said that he and his family would pray for their safety.  1LT Hickey spoke to Mohammed and told him that all his soldiers were worried about his daughter and hoped that she was well.

    Mohammed’s mother came into the street holding the little girl. The father introduced her as Saadeya smiled, took her into his arms, and said, “I know you are happy she is safe, but I am much happier than you.” Mohammed quickly explained that he was not questioning the happiness of the platoon, but was overjoyed to be able to enjoy a healthy daughter, thanks to the quick reactions of the Soldiers of First Platoon, Alpha Company 1-5 CAV.

Staff Sergeant Moore was positively heartened by saving the little girl.  He felt, especially since he had three daughters, that he made a difference in another family's life.

While on the base, the soldiers had trained a dog to help with protection of the base.  The dog had puppies and the combat soldiers couldn't help but take care of them, as well.  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.

SGT Medlin and PFC Varela with puppy

A few weeks later, on May 19th, 2007, all six men were killed in Baghdad when a roadside bomb exploded near their vehicle while on patrol.

Operation Puppy Love - Bringing DJ Home

In going through his possessions, Alex Valera'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 Alex had enjoyed so much.

1LT Tom Hickey, Platoon Leader

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 Airlines.

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.
Very respectfully,
LT Tom

The result of that contact was a partnership between Gryphon Airlines, BlackFive, Soldiers' 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 and was embedding in Iraq over Christmas, will be DJ's escort to the US.  This was made possible by the support of Prudent Publishing.  All embeds from Blackfive also serve as representatives of Soldiers' Angels, and Soldiers' Angels purchased an airline approved travel kennel and necessary supplies. The PetSmart in Lafayette, IN, also contributed some chew toys to the effort.

DJ the puppy

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.  DJ will be driven to California by a dog rescue group that will give DJ to Rinda Pope.

Private First Class Alejandro "Alex" Varela (l) and Specialist Matthew Alford (r) play with two puppies while stationed in Iraq.

In Memoriam:

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.

Godspeed, we'll never forget you.

Our BlackFiveTV version with some of the surviving squad members talking about their brothers and DJ is below:

Update 01-03-08 0700EST: Message From Blake-

    DJ is here!  She arrived early this morning to Dulles, and linked up with Pat Jarrett and Yankee Mom.  She weathered the long trip quite well, and is on her way to a short respite in Virginia before traveling on to California.  Pictures and more shortly, so watch this space!

    Many thanks to United and Gryphon and the USAF for their wonderful help getting her here!

Thanks to all.

Update 01-04-08:  Pat Jarrett has photos of DJ in the US.  Here's a sample:

Photos by Pat Jarrett. That's the happiest baggage handler I've ever seen.

Go check out Pat's photo blog and Flickr site.

Update 01-05-08:  Blake writes an update about DJ's arrival here (includes another photo and updated video).

Update 01-16-08:  DJ IS HOME!!!  DJ has completed his journey and is now with Alex's mom, Rinda Pope, in Sacramento, California.  We will have more on the meeting soon.