I was recently asked if my “story” could be used as a feature for the SAC Fund web site. Without writing a book that would take days to read I will do my best to summarize.
When I first deployed in January 2007 at 19 years old I saw some things that were not the easiest to cope with, and faced decisions that forced me to lose some of my innocence and the youth that I still had. I got to a point where I hated everything about Afghanistan and closed myself up from the outside world. I also resented Afghanistan because it forced me to miss the birth of my first child.
In the midst of these difficult experiences this soldier still found something that gave him joy: the local dogs.
I have always loved dogs. In the Tora Bora Mountains one of the homes we had occupied had a large dog like none I had ever seen before. It was a large muscular dog and brindle colored. One day the family that owned him and an older man put their dogs in front of us. We did not know what was going to happen and suddenly I was watching a dog fight. Although I don’t condone these sorts of things there was no way I was getting between the dogs. THEY WERE MASSIVE. More amazing, was that as soon as the fight ended the large dog that I knew started wagging his tail and his “switch” was turned off. ….. I asked the interpreter we had with us about it and he said that “Kuchi dogs are best dogs in the whole world” He explained how they are used to protect the families and livestock, are extremely loyal, hearty, and that they can even find their own food and water.
It was near the end of my deployment when I again got to pet a HUGE Kuchi dog in the city of Musa Qaleh. This dog was so big it looked like a polar bear, but so friendly that he was like a teddy bear. Although I gave him respect I couldn’t resist coming back to pet him each day until our Afghan Army counterparts continued on their mission and took him with them.
A couple of months later on our last mission some others and myself got badly bitten by fleas when we made the mistake of sleeping in a room meant for livestock. We were forced to sleep outside after that and it was still pretty cold at night in February. One day we found a puppy and we all started to play with him. This pup had the coolest brindle mix of colors and I wanted him badly. I just imagined him growing into the size of the huge dog in Musa Qaleh with the looks of the mountain dog in Tora Bora. I would play with him in all my free time I could find and one night I fell asleep with him in the cradle of my arm and woke up the next morning with him there. It was at that moment I made a vow that one day I would return the favor for the companionship of the dogs I had met and find a way to bring one home from Afghanistan.
After this deployment the soldier was sent home.
I redeployed home and almost immediately started fighting anxiety and posttraumatic stress problems. To make matters worse, a car had struck my dog Daisy while I was deployed and I felt like there was a large void in my life. My wife and I began discussing getting a dog from Afghanistan and I searched all over the Internet and found some people who were selling dogs for $5000 … I couldn’t afford it. I found a site called NOWZAD and I e-mailed them several times, but never got a response. I tried for months, but it didn’t work out.
I eventually moved to Kansas and adopted a dog named Buddy, a rescue from a tornado that stuck Joplin, Missouri; and although Buddy filled the void and became an awesome companion, I just couldn’t let go of my dream and the vow I had made.
Last year I found out I was going to be deployed again to Afghanistan and I contacted NOWZAD again -- this time a little more eager and anxious. I received a reply from a woman named Louise and we discussed how I wanted to rescue a puppy when I was deployed and send it home. Things looked good, but I would still need $3500 to do this.
Once back in Afghanistan he continued to pursue his dream of owning a Kuchi dog.
I finally made it to my base in Ghazni and was met with a huge obstacle; FOB Ghazni has a kill policy for all stray animals caught on the base or brought onto the base in order to prevent rabies and other diseases from spreading. I felt defeated and asked Louise what I could do. Her reply changed my life. She told me that she had three puppies that were recently brought in to her by a local Afghan man and that if I was interested I could look at the pictures and choose one to adopt. Zeus, Diana, and Thor were their names and when I saw first pictures I knew instantly that the caramel and white colored puppy with the black muzzle was destined to be mine.
It is important that I mention that up until this point I didn’t tell my wife, Maggie, that I was doing all of this because I was still trying to figure out the finances. When I told her she responded that we just couldn’t afford it, but told me “if you can raise the money you can get him”.
I set up a “gofundme.com” page and raised about $500. Then Louise set up a donation page to help me along me way. The next thing I knew I had news coverage from my hometown of Buffalo, NY and not only did I meet my goal, but I exceeded it! $7000 was raised between the two funds!
I remember breaking down and crying in my room that day because I had beat the odds. There was only one other place for the remaining money to go and that was to Zeus and Diana. If I was going to rescue Thor I wanted to help his siblings out too.
It was January 29, 2013 when Thor finally made it to the U.S and my wife picked him up from the airport in Kansas City and brought him home. Thor was received with hugs and kisses from my son Mark, who was at the airport, and later from my other children Joel and Annabelle, and a slew of my in-laws.
After a few delays I finally got home on March 15th and got to meet Thor in person. My anxiety and emotions were high. Everything was going perfectly for me: my kids were happy to have me home, I was finally home, and now I got to see what five years of dreams looked like when they actually came true.
As soon as I greeted them, I was pretty much mauled by Thor and Buddy.
Since then I haven’t been able to get over Thor’s soft fluffy fur, large muscular frame, soft temperament and extreme love for all of us. He spends his days running through my property chasing birds, rabbits, coyotes, and other wildlife with his new friend Buddy. He also sunbathes on the back patio and enjoys rolling in the mud. I think his favorite activity though is when I just go outside and lie down for him. He will come up and use his head like a shovel and nestle into me or lie on top of me. He’s a good puppy and great with my kids. He’s still a bit jumpy, but with his awkward looks, it’s almost impossible to do anything other than love him.
And finally this soldier sent a message to all who helped make Thor’s rescue a reality:
Hey, I just wanted to take a moment and say thank you all for Thor. I've been home for five days now and he and I already have one heck of a bond. He's softer than any Teddy Bear I have ever held, more loving than any other puppy I have ever seen, and just an all-around REALLY GOOD DOG. You all clearly give these animals plenty of love when they are with you because he is definitely a lover without an ounce of aggression towards us. He even sits on command for my wife. Once I get settled back into the states a little more I'll get busy again fundraising for you. I'm blessed because of you...Thanks