Iraq Veteran Reveals Exactly What Life Is Like For Dogs During War

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I joined the Army soon after the US invaded Iraq in ’04, so it was no surprise when I was deployed there. My unit’s mission was to provide security for humanitarian aid objectives and we did stuff like delivering water, setting up medical clinics, and vaccinating livestock. Basically we were in charge of doing anything to help the people of Iraq build infrastructure.

Back then I was a member of the Third Infantry Division, the “dog face soldiers.” This name had a bit of foreshadowing in it– I had no idea when I enlisted how dogs would become a big part of my time in the military.


Image via This Ain’t Hell

This is me, about to go on a patrol just outside of Baghdad.


On my first patrol in Iraq, I remember walking on the unpaved streets of a village made from mud bricks when I saw my first pack of dogs roaming the countryside. It became routine for me to see packs of a dozen dogs roaming by, but that first time I was shocked… And so was everyone in my platoon. We were dog-loving Americans who couldn’t imagine so many pups wandering around without care.

When I asked our interpreter why there were so many dogs roaming the town he said, “They are lost.”


Images via USNI ,CNN, Emirates247, and Treehugger

Soldiers miss so many things when they’re overseas. We miss Saturday nights and going out to restaurants or the movies. We miss our friends, our families, our parents… And we miss our dogs.

Images via The New York Post and Today

Several of the dogs that appeared on our patrols became familiar to us. Though we didn’t have dog snacks or toys, we would share bits of our food rations, throw a stick, and do what we could to treat the lost dogs of Iraq like we would the dogs back home.


Images via Mashable and Terribly Cute

Each team in my unit patrolled at a different time of the day. It didn’t matter which shift a soldier was on, he always ended up encountering the same yellow dog who would follow along our patrol. Here he is with one of the boys.


Images via Chris Aeillo Facebook

We eventually named the dog Automatic, after our unit, Automatic Steel. Below you can see Automatic joining a patrol as we handed out soccer balls to the kids in one of the villages.


Images via Chris Aeillo Facebook

Whether morning, noon, or night, Automatic would be out in the streets to greet a platoon. If Automatic begged, no one could ever deny Automatic a treat.


Images courtesy of author

Don’t worry. It was non-alcoholic beer. And c’mon, it was New Year’s Eve. Here’s Automatic with his favorite platoon leader, who was nice enough to bring Automatic a toy.


Images via Chris Aeillo Facebook

Prominent dog rescues were not working in Iraq when it came time for our unit to go home. We knew that Automatic would be staying, and that we would be leaving. The only thing we knew to do was introduce Automatic to the unit that replaced us.


Image via Nowzad

Fortunately, today things have changed and there are more international rescue initiatives working in war zones today. Organizations such as Nowzad work specifically to rescue animals from parts of the world where soldiers are finding their forever friends, ensuring the bond remains intact. Preexisting rescues are also doing much more to maintain the relationships between dogs and service members that form when they are abroad. Right now, helicopter pilot Capt. Wyllie is trying to find homes for four pups she’s met in the Middle East.


Image via Veooz

When I finished my tour of duty and got my life organized in the States, one of the first things I did was adopt my three-legged senior Chihuahua, Ricky. While Ricky really is the pup of my dreams, whenever my time in Iraq comes up I can’t help but think of Automatic and wonder what he’s up to now.


My pup, Ricky.

While I have no way of finding out what happened to that dog that made an impact on me, I can hope for the best and share my story. To all veterans, may you find the dog of your dreams!

Help K9s For Warriors give a new leash on life to rescue dogs and military heroes and fetch an extra month of BarkBox. Click here to learn more and donate today!

Featured Image via veooz

Brandon Rhoads

8 years ago