Chloe was found in the Marjah District of Helmand Province –an area that has seen some of the fiercest fighting in Afghanistan. One day last August, Marine Corporal Ward Van Alstine, on his second tour of duty in Afghanistan, was readying himself to go on patrol with twelve other Marines. Suddenly a dirty, sad-eyed dog ran onto the base and up to Corporal Van Alstine. Describing their meeting, he said, “I looked at her, and she looked at me. I pulled a Cliff Bar out and set it down. After that it was like we were attached at the hip”.
Chloe had found a savior – and was on the way to becoming one herself.
Corporal Ward Van Alstine had had a somewhat troubled life growing up. His mother died when he was a child and his father moved away to Iowa. Ward was raised by an aunt in Santa Rosa, California, and began to get into trouble in his teenage years. After high school he moved in with his father, but his troubles continued. Arrested for some misdemeanor crimes, he was given this choice by a judge: face punishment or receive a suspended sentence in exchange for serving in the military.
In January 2008, Van Alstine enlisted in the Marines. He served in Afghanistan for seven months in 2010 and had been back for another six months in 2011 when Chloe came into his life.
Chloe soon became an incredibly important part of Van Alstine’s life. Ward kept her in his tent, groomed her and fed her from his own rations. She was at his side whenever he was on base and walked next to him on foot patrols. When he had to leave by vehicle she would lie where the trucks were parked and wait for his return. As Van Alstine said, “She’d still be lying in the same area when we came back, sometimes as long as eighteen hours later.”
Chloe began to guard the base, barking when strangers approached. She became a mascot, a morale booster to the soldiers in Ward’s platoon. The stress of combat was palpable and often soldiers were affected. “Not everybody does well in those types of situations," Van Alstine said. "I think all dogs have that sixth sense. She'd just sit there with us the entire time and, if anyone wasn't doing well, she'd put her head on them and just close her eyes. She was the one thing that no matter how bad the day was she was our best friend."
In September, about six weeks before he was due to leave Afghanistan, Van Alstine began to search for a way to get Chloe home with him. He had heard the stories of how animals left behind were treated by the Taliban and couldn’t bear the thought of that fate for Chloe.
He finally established a spot for her at the Nowzad shelter in Kabul. Unfortunately he had to leave before she was safely there and could only hope she would stay around the base long enough to be rescued. He said that leaving her behind was one of the most difficult things he has ever had to do.
"I got up extra early and just hung out with her for about two or three hours," he said. "It was a sad day because I was really worried that something was going to happen after I left. She definitely knew something was up. She put her head in my lap and just laid there with me. When I got in the truck, she just went right back to her spot and looked at me. It was hard."
His adoptive mother describes how much Chloe means:
“My son Ward Van Alstine, is a tough guy Marine. He can bench press over his body weight and run for miles. He did 2 tours in Afghanistan and just returned home. He is also a 23 year old kid who desperately misses his family and fights back tears when he gets news of fellow Marine injuries or death.
While on patrol on his second tour, the soft heart of a skinny, dirty, starving dog touched his. He took her into his tent and made a home for her. In a war and a country where there are more questions than answers, her doggy
devotion became something he could believe in and count on, through bouts of homesickness and break ups with girlfriends, missed family holidays and just plain misery, he had a loving friend who was always willing to listen and just be there. That friend is Chloe, the dog that the Nowzad Organization is helping him bring home from Afghanistan to be part of our family. She already has a place in our grateful hearts.”
Chloe did make it, and as part of Operation American Reunite she arrived in the United States in November. Ward’s cousin, Christmas picked up Chloe at the airport in San Francisco.
On Thanksgiving Day she brought her to Ward, now stationed at Camp Pendleton in San Diego.
When Ward gets out of the service in December he plans to travel the country with his dog. He has said that in his mind “Not everybody made it home … until she makes it back home with me.”
Now she has.