Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Rebecca’s War Dog of the Week: Walking Lucy the pup in Zormat

Here is a guest column by Spencer Attackerdog, a memoir of a dog he encountered in Paktia province. I suppose I should have had more faith in a correspondent of Tom’s pedigree, but the moment I saw the first installment of this feature, I thought he got this Marine in trouble. That’s because when I met a ...

Ted Banks/U.S. Navy/Getty Images
Ted Banks/U.S. Navy/Getty Images
Ted Banks/U.S. Navy/Getty Images

Here is a guest column by Spencer Attackerdog, a memoir of a dog he encountered in Paktia province.

I suppose I should have had more faith in a correspondent of Tom's pedigree, but the moment I saw the first installment of this feature, I thought he got this Marine in trouble. That's because when I met a purebred Dog-of-War at a dusty outpost in Afghanistan's Paktia Province I was explicitly warned against photographing her, lest I call attention to how the unit I embedded with was violating some obscure anti-canine regulation. It turns out that rule's been scrapped, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

Not sure if it survived Gen. McChrystal's base-consolidation plan, but in September 2008 there was a small combat outpost near the southwestern Paktia town of Zormat, and back then it headquartered the 1-61 Cavalry Troop, under the command of an Oklahoman counterinsurgent named Chad Collins. There were about 100 cavalrymen under Collins' command, but the most persistent on-base patrol was thoroughly performed by a dirty gray puppy they called Lucy, who one day wandered onto the base. (An alternate version of Lucy's origin story that I heard involved her being born on the base after her pregnant mom wandered onto it.) I'm pretty terrible at identifying breeds, but her scrunchy face and surprisingly sinewy muscles lead me to think she had some bull terrier in her. At the risk of anthropomorphizing, the same persistence that led the 1-61 Cav not to give up on the local police after they got into a gunfight with a unit of the Afghan National Army -- I was told that happened a couple of days before I arrived at Zormat -- or after crooked cops turned a hunt for a weapons cache into a looting opportunity also taught Lucy to never leave the base, no matter how hard the soldiers tried to shoo her off.

Here is a guest column by Spencer Attackerdog, a memoir of a dog he encountered in Paktia province.

I suppose I should have had more faith in a correspondent of Tom’s pedigree, but the moment I saw the first installment of this feature, I thought he got this Marine in trouble. That’s because when I met a purebred Dog-of-War at a dusty outpost in Afghanistan’s Paktia Province I was explicitly warned against photographing her, lest I call attention to how the unit I embedded with was violating some obscure anti-canine regulation. It turns out that rule’s been scrapped, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Not sure if it survived Gen. McChrystal’s base-consolidation plan, but in September 2008 there was a small combat outpost near the southwestern Paktia town of Zormat, and back then it headquartered the 1-61 Cavalry Troop, under the command of an Oklahoman counterinsurgent named Chad Collins. There were about 100 cavalrymen under Collins’ command, but the most persistent on-base patrol was thoroughly performed by a dirty gray puppy they called Lucy, who one day wandered onto the base. (An alternate version of Lucy’s origin story that I heard involved her being born on the base after her pregnant mom wandered onto it.) I’m pretty terrible at identifying breeds, but her scrunchy face and surprisingly sinewy muscles lead me to think she had some bull terrier in her. At the risk of anthropomorphizing, the same persistence that led the 1-61 Cav not to give up on the local police after they got into a gunfight with a unit of the Afghan National Army — I was told that happened a couple of days before I arrived at Zormat — or after crooked cops turned a hunt for a weapons cache into a looting opportunity also taught Lucy to never leave the base, no matter how hard the soldiers tried to shoo her off.

No one’s heart was really in getting Lucy to go, especially when she would jump on the ratty couch in the Morale Welfare Recreation shack while someone watched SportsCenter, plop down, curl up, sigh convincingly and take a nap. Such heartwarming scenes were enough to make Antonio Leija, the first sergeant, bark that keeping a dog was against regs, so someone needed to take the dog outside and shoot her already. (That reaction you just had? Me too.) So every now and then, after dark, a soldier would whistle for Lucy to scamper outside, grab a pistol, and give every outward indication of lethal intent. Miraculously, Lucy always survived her nighttime walks. 

The price of such necessary Army fictions was that I couldn’t very well photograph Lucy, as much as I wanted to memorialize her, or I’d get these guys in trouble. But apparently that’s not an issue anymore. I emailed Tadd Sholtis, the Air Force lieutenant colonel who serves as McChrystal’s spokesman, to ask if there were still any rules against troops keeping dogs in Afghanistan, and whether I’d get anyone in trouble by identifying them as Lucy’s keepers even though the cav troop came home last year. "Usually, the base commander or local health official puts out a policy discouraging people from adopting strays for health reasons," Sholtis replied. "Considering that pictures of the dog adopted out at the Kabul airport generate the most comments ever on our Facebook site, though, I doubt anyone would have used coverage to cause any problems for those guys."

Tom again: Got a great memoir of a war dog you once knew? Miss that pup from Nuristan? Send along a few paragraphs! Stories with photos are especially welcome.

Editor’s note: The image above is not of little Lucy but one who seems to channel the same sweet spirit Spencer describes. This puppy, named J-Dam, was rescued by U.S. Navy Special Forces on Feb. 11, 2002 in Kandahar, Afghanistan.

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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