An Iraqi Dog's Life

tinadog.jpg
Tina, my unit's dog in Baqubah, Iraq

One of my favorite soldier blogs from Iraq is Kaboom: A Soldier's War Journal, written by an Army lieutenant serving in "Anu al-Verona" (a fictitious name) as a platoon leader. He writes colorful, moving, beautifully descriptive missives that remind me what it was like to soldier there -- and make me miss it too.

Last week, he posted this note describing his platoon's experience with a dog it adopted temporarily. He ends his note with this vignette:

I woke up before the sun the next morning. It has been a few months since I've been able to sleep for more than three hours at a time, something that - for better or for worse - seems to match our daily schedule. I grabbed a book out of my assault pack, found a group of ammo cans and old sandbags that served as a makeshift chair in this bizarro paradise, and fled the land of action for the land of words. Dawn's light soon replaced my flashlight, and shortly after that, the unmistakable sound of a pup's growl interrupted me. I looked up. Across the way, trotting down an empty ditch, the dog had discovered that it was not alone this morning.

"What do you want?" I asked.

My rhetorical question was all too obvious, and received an all too obvious answer. The dog perked up its ears and tilted its head to the side, and barked at me as if to say, "you know exactly what I want, you clown. I've been sent from the golden retriever gods to make you stop thinking for a few minutes. Grab a stick and let's make this happen." I threw the dog a stick for some minutes, and then I returned to my book. When I did, it curled up at my feet for an early morning nap. The sum result of the experience refreshed me mentally the way clean water can refresh physically - for a few minutes, I escaped the madness, the deadlines, the wars within the war. I escaped it all. I didn't have to embrace the Suck, or wait around for it to embrace me first. I embraced the normal. My normal. There was nothing more normal in my reality than a book and a dog, and that still seemed be the case.

It all ended, of course. But not before I remembered a few things.

Sometimes, little things like playing with a dog can make all the difference in the world.

By Phillip Carter |  May 21, 2008; 1:22 PM ET  | Category:  Iraq
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Comments

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And yet, in the first general order, there's the admonition against keeping dogs.

Yeah, I violated it, too.

Posted by: Carl P | May 21, 2008 6:20 PM

What, no combat patch (S SSI)? No rank on the sternum velcro?

Who is that soldier!

Posted by: GI JOE | May 21, 2008 7:45 PM

@GI Joe: Shoulder Sleeve Insignia - Former Wartime Service (SSI-FWTS) aka the combat patch is worn at the Soldier's option.

One of the problems with the velcro is after awhile it wears out and items rip off easily. I swiped a number of flags off other Soldiers' uniforms just by bumping into them.

Also, many Soldiers minimize the number of patches because the kids on the street know about velcro and pull them off.

Posted by: Soldier | May 21, 2008 10:48 PM

OT here, although I indeed appreciate the story about the dog. Soldiers and dogs have always gotten along well. We had 'em in Vietnam, they were in WW2, and I suppose the Roman legions adopted 'em.

What I want to address is those Velcro patches brought up by GI Joe and Soldier. When they came up with them, I recall thinking just how loud Velcro separating can be--ripppppp!--and how much that sound might be kind of undesirable at certain critical times. I don't know if I'd like them and I'm thinking that may be another reason why the LT'S not wearing the patches. Anybody who actually wears this weird stuff now who thinks in the same direction?

Posted by: Publius | May 21, 2008 11:39 PM

The soldier in the photo was a member of my adviser task force's Tactical Human Intelligence Team (THT), and thus authorized to go without insignia. Hence the sterile uniform.

Posted by: Phillip Carter | May 22, 2008 12:15 AM

Thank doG for the Golden Retriever Gods. . . may their tails long wag and their barks ring out. . .

Posted by: Tess | May 22, 2008 5:40 AM

QUOTE:

"One of the problems with the velcro is after awhile it wears out and items rip off easily. I swiped a number of flags off other Soldiers' uniforms just by bumping into them.

Also, many Soldiers minimize the number of patches because the kids on the street know about velcro and pull them off."

Reason #523 why the ACU is the stupidest decision made by the now discredited GEN Schoomaker.

I'm not too crazy about this "sterile uniform" thing for garden variety basic branch company grade officers and enlisted.

I think it's morally questionable and may even be in a legally gray area.

Yet another legacy of Schoomaker's frenzied efforts to "gitmo-ize" our Army writ large.

Posted by: IRR Soldier... | May 22, 2008 7:50 AM

I highly recommend the Kaboom journal. He provides great insight to the problems a 2nd Lieutenant has fighting this war.

Posted by: Adam S. | May 22, 2008 8:00 AM

Understandable but soldiers and dogs has been an issue for MEDCOM -- nice way to get a skin parasite.

Posted by: Sanjay | May 22, 2008 10:09 AM

Authorized or not, I sure wore my combat patch.

Posted by: Carl P | May 22, 2008 11:06 AM

Funny how this stuff comes and goes.

One of the first things I noticed on the OPs of the MFO-Sinai were the dogs. Usually scroungy-looking Egyptian greyhoundy looking mutts, to simplify matters they were all collectively named Sh-thead. You identified them by location, as in "That damn Sh-thead at OP-3-2 chewed my last pair of clean socks".

I found out later than the critters were the product of a very expensive study that came to the conclusion that pets helped GIs cope with boredom and seperation.

Well...duh!

Posted by: FDChief | May 22, 2008 12:07 PM

My first time around in Iraq, we didn't have enough MWD to conduct vehicle inspections, so we adopted 'Iraqi Coyotes' (which is what most of the dogs looked like). Once we had cleaned them up and had the doc check them out for disease, we put them on leashes and led them around the vehicles coming on post. In theory, this kept anybody thinking about VBIEDs from trying to slip past.

I don't know if it worked (maybe, we never got hit), but it gave us a good excuse to violate GO #1.

Posted by: Cato | May 22, 2008 3:11 PM

Mr. Carter-
Thanks for linking my site, and for the kind words.

To attempt to add some clarity regarding the velcro/patch situation: in the above photo, which I gather is from Mr. Carter's deployment, the soldier in question is not wearing his combat patch because he is a THT soldier rocking the sterile uniform. This is a common practice amongst THT personnel.

If people are looking at the main photograph off of my site, and wondering why the dapper, baby-faced LT isn't wearing a combat patch, it's simple: that photo was taken in my first few weeks in country. My men and I have since earned our combat patches, and wear them with our daily uniform.

Further, different units have different rules, and I can only speak of my experience over here- but outside of THT, "normal" combat soldiers are not allowed to leave the wire in sterile uniforms. Correct ranks and nametapes are still a must.

I hope this helps, rather than confuses even more.

Posted by: LT G | May 22, 2008 4:10 PM

@LT G, since normal Soldiers are not allowed to go out the wire sterile, does not sterile become an indicator that the THT Soldiers are not normal Soldiers? Wouldn't the smart thing be to mimic the supported unit's patch and wear a nametape that may or may not be yours?

Posted by: Soldier | May 22, 2008 10:43 PM

I tasted roast dog 40 years or so ago while trying to impress a hamlet chief with my manners. Never had the nerve to tell my wife and kids. They would disown me. Still.

Posted by: Jim | May 23, 2008 1:58 AM

"The soldier in the photo was a member of my adviser task force's Tactical Human Intelligence Team (THT), and thus authorized to go without insignia. Hence the sterile uniform."

Posted by: Phillip Carter

Not meaning to dis you, Phil, but 'sterile uniforms' sounded much better in the original german, so to speak.

Posted by: Barry | May 23, 2008 10:59 AM

"@LT G, since normal Soldiers are not allowed to go out the wire sterile, does not sterile become an indicator that the THT Soldiers are not normal Soldiers? Wouldn't the smart thing be to mimic the supported unit's patch and wear a nametape that may or may not be yours?"

This is a good observation. In my experience, those who've dabbled in this sort of work have variously tried the no insignia route, the wear of "U.S." insignia, and the wear of different branch insignia. The latter would seem to be preferable as a means of keeping the lowest possible profile, addressing targeting concerns and avoiding "special" attention if captured.

Another area of concern is the type of identification cards carried in a war zone.

Posted by: Publius | May 23, 2008 1:41 PM

Thanks, Phil.

Kaboom is an excellent blog, for its intelligence, writer's flair, and insight.

LT G accords with my observation as a recent college grad (Columbia U in NYC; LT G is a Wake Forest grad, I believe) that many of today's young 20-somethings on our college campuses are well-equipped mentally to tackle the multi-dimensional challenges of today's war, if only more of them could be convinced to become officers.

Posted by: Eric Chen | May 24, 2008 2:47 PM

I AM the soldier in the picture with T.I.N.A. (Terrorist Insurgent Notification Alarm) and we did have the Army's approval to have her on our compound.

Tina was the best thing that happened to me while on my first tour over here. Previously abused by Iraqi's, she had a dislocated hip and a fear of people. It took a long time to get her to realize we were not there to hurt her and when she did, she became our watchdog and an occasional moment of salvation from the horrors of war. Unfortunately, not everyone thought of her as a mental reprieve.
One day while I was out on a mission, a soldier - whom will remain unamed - took TINA on a convoy far away from our compound. Some said he just dropped her off - pregnant, in the middle of nowhere. Sometimes I wish he had just killed her so that she never would have been out there trying to fend for herself and her unborn puppies; not knowing whether to trust a human again.

I went home with PTSD and ended up getting a kitten (Skyler) to help get through my twelve months of trying to figure out who I was. It was just the kind of help I needed. Along with therapy, Skyler showed me that I was capable of loving again and I worked hard at picking up the pieces of my former self.

Now, I sit in Iraq, yet again. This time for 15 months. I wish for something, anything or anyone to take my mind off my daily encounters when I lay down at night.

The military has finally begun to recognize the healing power of animals - something that many of us have known for a long time. They are now giving permission to combat stress units and chaplains to bring dogs here to help all of us cope with things. I will never forget TINA and will always be thankful for moments of hope that she gave me on many scary and seemingly lonely days.

And, for those of you that are all spun up on the wearing or not wearing of unit patches and rank... There was and is nothing illegal about it. Each of here has a mission. Due to the sensitive nature of my mission, commanders have the ability to authorize us to have sterile uniforms. I know the arguments for and against it because I live it every day. My focus is not of what is on my uniform, but how many terrorists and insurgents I am able to help kill or capture so we can all just go home.

PC - Thanks for the great memory. :)

Posted by: GI Jane | May 28, 2008 4:26 PM

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