- By Thomas E. RicksThomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.
This week’s war dog tale comes from a soldier who served in Afghanistan.
By Capt. Michael Cummings, U.S. Army
Best Defense guest canine contributor
Dogs are as integral to war as bullets, people or tragedy. When I deployed to Afghanistan, regulation forbid keeping dogs as company mascots. But I didn’t step foot on a FOB that didn’t have at least one dog. Or a resident feral cat. Or pet monkey purchased off base. Or captured python.
We named the above puppy K2. He wasn’t my favorite war dog, but the most picturesque. K2 was our second attempt at raising a puppy on our FOB. The first puppy, with the Star Trek-inspired name “Khan,” had an unfortunate run-in with anti-freeze in the motor pool.
K2 was the youngest of the three dogs at Camp Joyce. The alpha dog was a bitch nicknamed Mama. She looked like a wolf, with gray fur and menacing eyes. Mama single-handedly kept our FOB clear of other animals, ferociously defending the FOB from any wild Afghan dogs who tried to scavenge our trash pit. Once, she led her pack to run off a herd of lost cattle that made its way to our side of the base. Mama stood her ground and drove them right out the front gate, deftly snapping at their heels. Mama was flanked by a black and white dog about half her size who never even got a name. He was just that dog with one eye. (We never figured out how he lost it.)
K2 lacked Mama’s abilities though. When he tried to chase cows away, they would just charge him and he would turn tail. I’ll be honest, K2 was a weenie. We didn’t like him because he was useful, we liked him because he was a puppy.
What sticks with me most about war dogs was the lengths officers, NCOs and soldiers would go to keep them out of harm’s way. I’ve seen Sergeants Major and Lieutenant Colonels risk their careers over their favorite dogs. About a week before we were supposed to leave country, word came down to get rid of all the animals on every FOB. They weren’t authorized, we were told, so they had to go before the new unit came in. The day our full-bird colonel and his replacement came on a battlefield tour, suddenly all the dogs were gone. I assumed they had been taken to the trash pit and executed, the fate of many dogs downrange. But as soon as the chopper took off, bounding around a corner were the mini-pack: Mama, K2 and the dog with no name.
Michael Cummings is a U.S. Army Captain currently attending training at Fort Huachuca, Arizona. He deployed to Afghanistan with the 173rd ABCT in support of Operation Enduring Freedom VIII. He blogs at www.onviolence.com with his brother.