Voice from the Commonwealth Commentary, World Views and Occasional Rants from a small 'l' libertarian in Massachussetts
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The Pentagon called it Operation Free Fluffy and, thanks to dogged determination by the Army and others, the decidedly unconventional rescue mission now ranks as another win in the war in Iraq.
Fluffy, the once-malnourished commando canine who protected a U.S. Special Forces unit in northern Iraq, was reunited over the weekend with the Army handler who could not bear to leave the loyal dog behind in Iraq.
"People pulled together for a dog who supported us the whole time we were in Iraq and put himself on the line for our country," said Sgt. 1st Class Russell Joyce, an Army Special Forces soldier and Fluffy's handler.
Fluffy is now ensconced in Joyce's North Carolina home, where he is enjoying the best living ever in his estimated two years of life, including a new doghouse Joyce built -- decked out with a marble floor, courtesy of leftover construction materials -- and nutritious American dog food, a far cry from the scraps he had barely subsisted on.
It was a torturous route -- complete with enemy firefights and pitched bureaucratic battles -- that brought the Iraq-born German shepherd there. Along the way, thousands of animal lovers from as far as Australia, as well as scores of Vietnam War veterans and an array of Capitol Hill lawmakers, peppered the Pentagon with calls and e-mails on the war dog's behalf. Even the White House, home to a pair of dog-fanciers, was kept apprised of the situation.
The saga began when Joyce's unit in northern Iraq needed extra security for their efforts at toppling Saddam Hussein's regime. Trained to improvise on the battlefield, these elite troops asked local ethnic Kurds to find them a dog. The Kurds sold them Fluffy, who was badly underfed by the Iraqi army, missing several teeth and scarred on his head and legs.
Joyce, 35, gave the good-natured dog his improbable name and took over his training and care. Fluffy protected the commando team while they slept and performed admirably as the soldiers fought for control of a mountain north of Mosul. Joyce said he and Fluffy survived several shooting incidents and a minefield.
When it came time for Joyce to return home to his wife and two children in Fort Bragg, N.C., he scrambled for permission for Fluffy to accompany him. But although immunized and checked out by Army veterinarians, Fluffy was barred from going because he was not an official military working dog.
From virtually the moment he returned home on May 11, Joyce fought to find a way for Fluffy to be sprung, fearing the dog might be euthanized or abandoned in a country not fond of canines. Joyce was not prepared for the response he would get as his e-mailed plea found its way to Web sites of military war dog veterans and advocates for animals.
Within days, thousands of e-mails and calls -- many from Vietnam War vets who to this day grieve that they had to leave behind canine combat companions who saved countless GI lives -- bombarded the White House, the office of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and congressional lawmakers.
The Army led the charge for Fluffy, coordinating the trek through the byzantine bureaucratic requirements of, among others, the Agriculture Department, U.S. Customs, the Air Force and Army. To conform to regulations, Fluffy was officially deemed an "honorary military working dog with honorary war dog status."
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