Friday, May 16, 2008

The Happiest Dog in Iraq

Recently, our parent unit opened up another combat outpost in the hub of the outlying villages, earning the all too obvious nickname of Little Anu al-Verona. While one of our sister platoons operates out of here now, the Gravediggers recently covered down on their security operations for a day so they could get back to the FOB for a maintenance refit. It was here, surrounded by palm trees and an irrigation system that actually functions, that we discovered the happiest dog in Iraq.

Most dogs over here bear no resemblance to their domesticated cousins in the western world; instead, they are as feral as coyotes, as scrawny as hyenas, and as ugly as the Duke University student population. ("And I always remember that whatever I have done in the past, or may do in the future, Duke University is responsible one way or the other." - Richard Milhous Nixon.) It’s not a true dismounted night patrol unless there’s a close encounter of the canine kind with a frothing, demented, “rabies is the most benign thing my bite brings” beast-mutant. (We’re back to Iraq now, in case you were confused.) Luckily, these third-world abominations usually recognize what getting too close is and what ignoring the green laser of God means – a bullet through the skull. Still though, it’s all too evident that my too sweet and too stupid golden retriever from back home would last seven minutes - tops - in the back-alleys and alley-backs of Anu al-Verona. There’s not much to wag your tail about in Iraq, and there is no retrieving that occurs when playing fetch with exploding ordinance instead of tennis balls.

And yes America, while I care about said golden retriever far too much, she’s as good an analogy as any for the current state of the nation.

Anyhow, while settling into our security rotations at the combat outpost in Little Anu al-Verona, we heard PFC Van Wilder yelling from inside the center-most building in the billets area. SFC Big Country and I exchanged shrugs, and wandered over to see what the ruckus was all about.

“There’s a fucking giant rat in there!” PFC Van Wilder said as he came back outside. “It lives underneath a bed, and scared the shit out of me.”

“Hah hah hah.” PFC Das Boot’s hearty chuckle resonated from inside the building. “Hah hah hah.”

“What are you laughing about?” asked PFC Van Wilder. “You find that rat?”

PFC Das Boot, in all his gangly awkwardness, stepped outside with a grin to match his length. “There is no rat in there. It is a puppy-dog.” Sure enough, he was cradling a very tiny yellow dog, who was barking down at us playfully from its perch in our young soldier’s arms. It had a slim rodent-like tail, with no feathers, an undersized runt-frame and an outsized tongue flopping out of its mouth.

The platoon burst in laughter, mainly at the expense of PFC Van Wilder. Usually the instigator of the jokes rather than the culmination of them, he couldn’t help but shake his head at this dalliance with fair play. He wasn’t about to let the subject go so easily, though. “It must be a Russian dog. That’s why it likes Das Boot.”

PFC Das Boot set the dog back down on the ground. “I do not understand,” he said. “The dog is Iraqi and I am German. What does Russia have to do with this?”

“Shut up Ivan Drago!” PFC Van Wilder had resumed control of the situation all too easily. “Get your gear and get your KGB-ass up to the towers with me. We’re first on shift.”

While SSG Bulldog traipsed off with the first batch of soldiers on watch in his stead, the rest of the platoon took turns greeting our new friend and temporary housemate. “It must be Apache Platoon’s mascot,” SFC Big Country stated. “I guess it lives here with them.” We subsequently found the dog’s food and water dishes – Frisbees turned upside down.

The dog didn’t have a nametag, and we as visitors didn’t feel it was right to give it one, so “the dog” sufficed for the duration of our stay. It was unlike any other animal we had come in contact with thus far in our deployment. It barked, not out of fear, but because it demanded and craved attention from humans. Fascinated with everything we did, it followed around our most mundane movements like we were discovering the edge of the flat world. If ignored for even a few minutes, the consequences would usually be a string of military 550-cord wrapped around your ankles. Simply put, the dog enjoyed existing in a way most of us haven’t been around since we left home. Being fed regularly and being treated with kindness tends to have that effect on all of God’s creatures, I guess. It was happy with itself and happy with life, and wanted to share such with us.

Truth be told, it was a fucking weird experience at first. I hadn’t prepared myself adequately for such a return to the ordinary. I couldn’t stop thinking about what would happen to it if and when Apache Platoon departed this place. Five months and some change into this thing, and cynicism splatters every thought of mine like a Jackson Pollock work.

My Joes loved it, though, and by the end of the night, the dog was exhausted. SPC Doc passed out with it in bed, and finally, the canine-terrorist was down for the count. Most of us moving around that night still compulsively tested our ankles for freedom of movement, however, and kept any sudden movements to a minimum. The dog was definitely more familiar with this terrain, putting us two-leggers at a distinct disadvantage.

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.

40 comments:

Grandpa said...

Maybe you should name the dog "lil Panda". There is no better family dog the the golden retriever,there has never been a recorded instance of a golden retriever biting anyone, and no othr breed can make that same claim.

pjh said...

Good dogs, bad dogs: Dogs and sanity, they go together. Take care.

nick said...

given the golden retriever's historical reaction to dark, bearded strangers, I think 7 minutes is an impressively long time estimate.

Anonymous said...

Love reading your entries. You are a good writer.

And thanks for everything. I'm grateful for you and your friends.

Anonymous said...

Dear Son,

"If Labs were people, they'd be surgeons, accountants, attorneys, and CEOs - sucessful, yes, but a little, um, predictable."

"Goldens, in contrast, are right-side, Type B dogs: imaginative, mellow, enemies of routines...quirky, fun-loving, and full of surprises. You'd want a Labrador to handle your money, but you'd want a Golden to throw your party. A couple of hours into the festivities, it's the one wearing the lampshade." Tom Davis

Mollie and I are SO happy that you and the Gravediggers had a few moments with "The Happiest Dog in Iraq." A good dog and a good book is the best medicine.

Love, Mom

Earl said...

I have alluded to women being necessary for humanity - not for their thinking but for their hot bods (???) but maybe I am too accustomed to the wonder of dogs and men that I should have written it on stone. Yeah, dog and man, the best of normal with wandering Girls from Ipanima slinking by.

Anonymous said...

Outside of a book, a dog is man's best friend. Inside a dog, it's too dark to read. - Groucho Marx
Glad you had the chance to grab a bit of relaxation.
- the future stryker king's mom

Anonymous said...

As Charles Schulz wrote:

"She had always been kind.
Sometimes, however, she wondered if she was appreciated. 'Even so,' she thought, 'I shall always smile and be kind.' Once a Golden Retriever, always a Golden Retriever."

I'm glad you enjoyed my emissary from the "golden retriever gods."
Tee Hee! I miss you.

Mollie

2SBCT Mom said...

What a great story. I'm glad you were able to experience some "normal".

My son's platoon came across an entire litter of puppies in Sadr City. They were all too happy to share their MREs with them. The pics of them sleeping with the soldiers on their cardboard in the street was touching considering the circumstances.

Stay safe.

mutt said...

thanks, again, for the ride-along.
Only thing I miss on long motorcycle trips is my cats.....
Cool, Lt.......

Eirc S. said...

Isn't it amazing how a puppy can make even the worst situation bearable. Even at their tender ages, they seem to have that strange ability to sense moods and temperament. Glad you had a chance to breath a breath of normal. stay safe and watch your back.

PS be nice to newbies you might run into. My nephew 11b will be coming you way soon

Anonymous said...

A few minutes of escape is a few minutes of escape. The four legged bundle of energy provided a brief gift. Enjoyable read, you and the GD's take care.
Cathy B

Anonymous said...

Dear Lt. G: Regarding Richard Nixon's statement, "And I always remember that whatever I have done in the past, or may do in the future, Duke University is responsible one way or the other."
Me thinks that had he adhered to the values of his undergraduate college, rather than those of his law school, the outcome of his Presidency might have been different!

All the best from a proud Whittier College Poet.

Macy said...

Thank you for all that you do, Lt. G.

Anonymous said...

HEY! Don't let that "Johanna come lately" Mollie take all the credit! I'm the one, after all, that got you through your sulky years and that was subjected to innumerable indignities by your little brother - "Davy Crocket, coonskin hat" indeed! And I'm still watching out for you.

Love, Sadie

Nina G said...

Just dropping a note to say I am thinking of you and Know Kellie the beagle would love all that attention!! Love and miss you, stay safe.

BigD said...

Glad to hear that this little "canine terrorist" was able to bring you some inner peace and joy; and if only for a few moments transport you back to "ordinary." Nothing like a little unconditional love and some puppy kisses to bring smiles to the faces and sun into the hearts of even the fiercest warriors. Rock on guys, find food and kindness where you can!

FbL said...

What a wonderful post! I'm so glad you had those moments of "normal."

Anonymous said...

And may Sadie and Shelby wag their tails, drool their slobber, and love you no matter what you may do or say as they retrive our hearts with such unconditional love and affection that only a Golden can give.

Heidi - as intperpreted by Poppa G

PS _ Do you think there are any similarities between the character traits of canines of Golden decent and people of Irish decent? HMMMMM

Sisu said...

Lt G,

Your last paragraph is one of the happiest items I've read in awhile, if only because you got to embrace your normal.


You and those Gravediggers take care.

the walking man said...

Let the normal follow you through ut the deployment and touch you often enough that you never lose track of it boss.

Peace

Hardtack said...

I am so glad you had a few moments with this puppy. He gives unconditionally, and is something to restore the soul.

You don't have to put on airs, you don't have to do anything special, a dog will accept you as your are.

Good post. Glad you were able to get away for a few minutes. Glad you were able to restore the soul.

Stay Frosty.

DocOnTheWay said...

See? Every now and then...

rakkasansleadtheway said...

Brother your just made this old Grunt, shed a tear or two. I had a very similar experiance during my Sinai rotation. If you ask me dogs are damm good to have around. They always let us know when someone that wasn't based on the OP was moving around, especially at night.(plus they are fun to have around) Once again kudos, awesome as usual.

Anonymous said...

Dear Son,

For some reason I'm getting the impression that Duke isn't going to make your short list of graduate schools. Keep an open mind you never know - if you can try to bring peace and understanding to the Shi'a and Sunni maybe there is hope for the Blue Devils and Demon Deacons.

Love
Poppa G

Eric said...

Proving once again the dog is man's best friend.

Anonymous said...

Do your best to make sure that dog gets a good gig; if you don't it will it will haunt you. That's the kind of stuff that matters, anyway. Good luck!!!

lizz said...

What an amazing talent you have...the ability to transport another into your world, your head....

David M said...

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 05/19/2008 News and Personal dispatches from the front lines.

Kim said...

You are an amazing writer. I really enjoy your posts. I have three dogs and they have helped me through the hardest days of my life, which are NOTHING compared to what you are facing every day. Thank you!

remoteman said...

If bashing Duke makes you feel better, go right ahead. We can take it. Especially after we beat some Deacon ass in football this year (yeah, that's right, football). Then we'll see about basketball.

Of course your opinion is certainly relevant to the cheerleaders. They were NOT hot when I was at Duke. There were, however, plenty of other hotties there. But that 26 years ago. Maybe that's all changed now.

Glad the dog helped you find some normal. Nice to be reminded it is there. Hold on to it and watch your six.

Anonymous said...

Glad that happened to ya Lt.

Bag Blog said...

Ah, Puppy Love! Once again, you make us feel your life.

Anonymous said...

Again, you painted the picture with such a skilled hand. You helped us all visualize what life is really like for our military on the ground in Iraq. You also reminded us that it is in those fleeting moments of normal life that one is helped through the tough times, whether the tough times come in the form of dealing with war, dealing with loss and grief or dealing with cancer.

Here's to the time when you will be back stateside with your own dog, a good book, a good night's sleep and a sense of peace for a job well done. Thank you for your service, thank you for your words.

Stay safe.

A Texas Soldier's Mother

membrain said...

Glad to hear you got a moment of normal with the dog. If any of the Gravediggers wnats to take her home, it can and has been done.

Sergeant Eddie Watson with the 82nd Airborne; the first of the Surge did jus that. you can read about it here: http://operationbch.blogspot.com/

Scoutout said...

One of the most poignant posts ive read.
Is it possible for you to share the book you are currently reading?

Michael Stephen Fuchs said...

Absolutely brilliant. I don't know that we can even begin to thank you for your service - but your fantastic writing about it is another story. ;^) Thank you. Truly great stuff.

Jasmine said...

Hi there, I read about this in the newspaper(Style section). I was actually going to read the funnies but then I saw the front page of the style section and was like," WHOA!" Isn't it violating his freedom of press, one of his rights?

W. G. Pride said...

Kaboom:

I feel for you and all those in the so called war of this century. I being an old navy person and some few years ago did not encounter issues you face today.
May god be with you as he has been with me.

Anonymous said...

Dude, I can't believe you let that dog sleep in our beds! No wonder we got back and he thought he could have the run of the place... so much for establishing some discipline in that pooch. I miss that little white ball of fluff. -Former Apache PL CPT N