Military Tone Deaf on Pets in a Combat Zone, Keeping Battle-Buddies Apart!
This week US News via MSNBC reports that military red tape is keeping two pals apart, a former Marine Corporal injured in battle and her working dog, soon to be retired from service. See the full story at the link below. We believe these battle-buddies should be together!
This story pulls at the heartstrings. Marine Corporal Megan Leavey and her working dog Sgt. Rex have been working together in and out of combat for three years. Deployed to Iraq twice, the pair were wounded by a roadside bomb in Ramadi, south west of Baghdad, in 2006. While Leavey was discharged from the Marines, Rex continued to work.
Now close to retirement, Rex hangs out at a kennel at Marine Base Camp Pendleton, Calif. while military brass figures out what to do with him. Leavey has twice completed the proper paperwork to receive the dog through adoption and patiently waits. The Air Force, oddly enough, is the controlling authority here, not the Marine Corp, as it is the branch which oversees the working dog program, and it is on their decision that Leavey and Rex wait.
After the incident in Ramadi, Rex recovered fully and went back to work. Now suffering from facial palsy, the services have determined that he can no longer work. The hang-up now is whether or not the working dog, who was used to sniff out explosive devices, is fit to be adopted. No one has said what happens if the dog is determined to be ‘unfit’.
This is the second story I’ve come across in recent years where red tape has prevented two pals who found each other in war, one human and one canine, from being together. While we wait for the story of Leavey and Rex to come to its hopefully happy ending, here is another that will light a smile.
In October of 2008, Ratchet the dog arrived in Minnesota to greet well wishers, media types and congressmen. The black border collie mix wasn’t a working dog injured in war, but a puppy marked for destruction when Army Sergeant Gwen Beberg rescued him from a burning trash bin. A pair of Iraqi locals had placed a burlap sack filled with unwanted puppies in a trash heap and had lit it on fire. Sgt. Beberg was on patrol that day and was horrified by what she saw. Risking harm to herself, she managed to save one of the puppies.
Ratchet Comes Home: http://www.startribune.com/local/west/32489589.html?page=1&c=y
Ratchet and her soldier bonded over the months of their deployment and Beberg told family and friends that the dog gave her great comfort from the loneliness, isolation and fear of a combat tour of duty. The dog became a mascot of her company, and Beberg did everything she could to get the dog to come home with her. The Army wouldn’t let her, and an officer confiscated the dog before it could be flown home to Minnesota.
After clearing many hurdles, the two were reunited, with the help of a Minnesota organization called Baghdad Pups, a branch of SPCA International. A representative of Baghdad Pups went to Kuwait to pick up the dog and brought her home for her friend, at great personal expense to the organization.
I was attending the Defense Information School’s Public Affairs Qualification Course at Ft. Meade Maryland when I first heard about Ratchet. I was given an assignment to report three news stories that would affect a notional command in theater to the Commandant of the school house. I was moved by this story, so I briefed it as the top story. The Lieutenant Colonel who took the briefing didn’t understand the relevance of this story. Then as now, military brass are tone deaf to the need for the average soldier, sailor, airman, and Marine for comfort and companionship on the battlefields far from home.
Military regulations prevent servicemembers from keeping pets in a combat zone. Leaders often don’t understand the bond between a human in a war zone and their canine pals. The bond is so strong indeed that soldiers will defy their leaders and risk military discipline to rescue their pets from the combat zone. Organizations like Baghdad Pups incur great expenses to help in these rescues.
I’m not much of a bleeding heart, and I don’t agree with much of what animal rights organizations do these days, often putting the welfare of animals over that of people. But over this issue, our interests converge. Where it is possible for the services to rescue a few animals who bond with our soldiers, it should be done, and the brass should relax the regulations to make it happen.
And those of us who have loved ones far from home, who find themselves bonding with a special canine friend while in harm’s way, should do everything we can to convince the military brass to bring our battle-buddies home with our soldiers.
For information about the Baghdad Pups program visit the SPCA website at http://www.spcai.org/.