Iraqi war dog gets to retire with SF handler
by Staff Sgt. Marcia Triggs
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, May 20, 2003) -- An Iraqi-born German shepherd, who put his life on the line to guard U.S. Special Forces, escaped euthanasia and will soon travel to the United States to retire.
Sgt. 1st Class Russell Joyce, the Special Forces soldier from Fort Bragg, N.C., nursed the malnourished and abused dog from northern Iraq back to health and trained him. The dog guarded Special Forces soldiers who accomplished missions like taking control of Maqlub mountain, and removing the last of Mosul's defenses.
Upon arriving back to Fort Bragg, Joyce frantically sent out two e-mails to friends and family asking for help to get the faithful guard dog, Fluffy, shipped to the United States.
Those e-mails somehow traveled through cyberspace and reached numerous war dog associations and members of congress, who are lobbying to get Fluffy a ticket to the States.
An Air force Squadron at Kirkuk Air Base, Iraq, is currently taking care of Fluffy. However, as soon as the Department of Agriculture and the Office of the Secretary of Defense approves Fluffy's flight, he will begin his journey to the states, officials said. Approval is practically guaranteed as agencies from the Department of Defense, Army, Air Force and the consultant to the Army surgeon general for Veterinary Clinical Medicine scurry to expedite Fluffy's retirement.
Fluffy's fate was first in question May 11. He wasn't allowed to board the homeward-bound plane with the Special Forces soldiers.
"We purchased him from the Kurds to perform military operations, but the officer in charge of loading said that since he didn't originate in the States, and wasn't on order, he was not authorized to travel to the U.S.," Joyce said.
"Myself, and other people on my team, tried to explain that an Army veterinarian said Fluffy was fit for travel, and that I had the proper paperwork to prove it."
Joyce left Fluffy with an Air Force K-9 unit, but he was told that the unit could only hold onto the Shepherd for 72 hours.
"As his handler, I grew attached to him, but the reason I really wanted to see him in the States was because he supported us the whole time we were in Iraq," Joyce said.
"He walked guard with every American soldier in our compound, all night long. He chased stray dogs away. He never ran at the sound of bullets, and we were safe because he was there," Joyce said. "He was a deterrer, and that's an immeasurable success."
Fluffy joined Joyce's team with visible scars on his head and legs, weighing about 31 pounds and missing his front two bottom teeth. The full-breed shepherd spent his first night with the Special Forces so scared that he didn't move, Joyce said.
The soldiers only had two weeks to prepare Fluffy for duty, but he impressed the team by catching onto the commands very quickly and warming up to his new owners. He was trained to guard and be a pursuit dog. Upon release from his handler, he could chase and bring down a perpetrator.
"There's no dog food in Iraq," Joyce said. "So we all shared our food with him, and fed him out of the palm of our hands. He was never aggressive toward us, and his first name, Tariq Aziz, was not befitting of his character."
Tariq Aziz is the name of Saddam Hussein's foreign minister and is the eight of spades in the Iraqi leaders most wanted deck of cards. Aziz was the longest serving member of Hussein's regime but was captured April 25.
"I wanted a name for him that wasn't too macho, and didn't have so many syllables," Joyce said. "The first thing that came to mind was Fluffy, and eventually everyone started calling him by that name."
Fluffy traveled from the most northern part of Iraq, to the south, past the front lines, onto the edge of Mosul guarding his team members wherever they laid their heads.
The reason Fluffy will be allowed to travel to the United States is not based on a sympathetic military that feels for a soldier who was at risk of losing his dog. A U.S. military working dog about to be euthanized at the end of his useful life may be adopted by his former handler according to a law established by Congress Nov. 6, 2000, said Air Force Col. Fred Pribble, the special assistant for International and Security Affairs.
Not only is Joyce and his family anxiously awaiting the arrival of Fluffy, but also are veteran dog handlers who remember having to leave their four-legged comrades behind.
"I spend all night answering e-mails and phone calls from veterans who have fought in past wars," Joyce said.
"Bringing Fluffy to the States isn't about me," Joyce said. "It's about the men who weep on the phone while they talk about the relationship they had with the dogs who served with them in war."