NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Two stray dogs in Afghanistan who found comfort and companionship with a company of U.S. Army soldiers at a remote firebase are poised to leave the war zone behind. As the troops get set to return home, their spouses have raised nearly $6,000 to fly the dogs to the United States.
A Facebook posting has spread the word, and donations are flowing in to pay the costs of transporting the dogs — Smiley and OP1 — the thousands of miles from Afghanistan. Their destination: Fort Campbell, the big military base on the Kentucky-Tennessee line and a new life with the families of some of the soldiers.
The 4th Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, was one of the units dispatched to Afghanistan last year to secure that country from a resurgent Taliban. They are expected to begin leaving the country later this summer.
Sonya Luedeman, wife of Spc. Jason Luedeman, a medic in Charlie Company, 1-61 Cavalry, said her husband couldn't stop talking about a black-and-white dog that had followed the soldiers back to their firebase during a patrol months ago.
The soldiers called him OP1, after the outpost where they found him.
Dogs generally have a hard life in war-torn Afghanistan, where they are not typically considered pets and often scavenge for food around military bases. Someone had cut off OP1's ears, and it was difficult to determine how old he was because he was malnourished when the soldiers found him.
Sgt. Mark Webber, an infantryman with Charlie Company, soon became attached to the friendly dog, who would chase off other strays and join them on missions lasting days. Webber snapped pictures of OP1 napping with soldiers or serving as a scout during risky foot patrols.
There, OP1 became "friends" with Smiley, a female dog hanging around the base, Webber said. Amanda Webber, Mark's wife, said Smiley got her name because soldiers say the tan dog looks as if she's grinning.
Webber said the soldiers recently learned that Smiley is pregnant, which complicates plans to transport her. They are still trying to raise about $2,000 — the remaining expense for Smiley's flight.