Aboard Noah's Blog

News, information, and chatter about collectible items with animal themes, as well as some facts, figures and fun related to pets and wildlife.

Location: Mentor, Ohio, United States
Noah's Blog Sponsors

Monday, August 08, 2005

Army breaks its own rules to allow troops pets

Published in the Asbury Park Press 08/8/05


A pair of Navy corpsmen went on a scavenging mission in a trash dump out side Camp Gannon — at the edge of Husaybah, Iraq, in March. Their mission: Bring back a pet dog for the Marines.

Michael Ledbetter, 23, of Ballinger, Texas, and Chad Martin, 25, of Fort Worth plucked three mongrel pups from their sour-smelling bed, immunized them with veterinarian supplies they discovered in camp, gave them baths and turned them over to the men.

That's against military rules, strictly interpreted. U.S. troops in Iraq aren't allowed to have pets. And the wild dogs of the desert, which feed on the troops' garbage, are viewed as menaces, aggressive to men on patrol and often bearing diseases. A pack of 10 wild dogs lives near Camp Gannon, and about 20 live near the base at nearby Qaim. They sneak up like insurgents.

At larger military bases than this one, private contractors set steel traps for the dogs, and the animals are euthanized. Troops who try to adopt them can be punished.

But at Camp Gannon, where mortar and rocket fire are daily occurrences, where the men live isolated from the Iraqi townsfolk and even from regular military supplies — which must be convoyed across the desert under heavy security — the officers in charge convened an informal powwow, and the pups' adoption was approved.

"They're unofficial pets, that's for sure, but everybody knows about them," says camp physician Lt. Scott Wichman of Rochester, Minn., who attended the confab that decided the dogs' fate. He says the pups are morale boosters.

"It gives them a sense of home and something to take care of," he says. "They truly are community dogs."

Says Ledbetter, the Navy corpsman: "The Internet and phones are fine, but it's nice to have a dog running around. It reminds you of home."

In April, Wayne Pacelle, head of the Humane Society of the United States, wrote a letter to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld asking the Pentagon to stop the euthanasia of troops' pets and to drop its prohibition against care of animals in the war zone. He also asked the Pentagon to authorize the troops to ship home healthy animals.

Responding to what he said were "numerous letters of complaint" from troops and their families about the Pentagon's hard line, he also criticized the military's punishment of pet owners under its guidelines for conduct.

"The bond between humans and animals does not compromise character or morale," he wrote. "Rather, it enhances them."

Ledbetter and Martin would settle for just being able to turn over their growing pups to the next rotation of troops who will arrive at Camp Gannon this fall.

For now, Wichman set the conditions for the dogs' stay: "The first sign of anything bad — growling or anything else — and we're going to have to get rid of them."

Today, the pups have names — Lunchbox, Seven Ton and Sharpshooter — and duty rosters. Lunchbox sleeps beneath the corpsmen's cots but trots out regularly to the tank post. And almost any time of day, he will check in at the chow hall.

Seven Ton, who is named for the Marines' big transportation trucks, lives with the mechanics at "Motor T" — the T stands for transportation — while Sharpshooter is the snipers' mascot.

But Lunchbox, Ledbetter says, well, "He's the chief." Ledbetter and Martin do rescue work for a living. In military parlance, they are "hospital men." When mortars or rockets strike and most men are ordered to get down or fire back, Ledbetter and Martin run in the direction of the blast to aid the wounded.

Ledbetter has a job lined up at a Florida surf shop when he gets out of the Navy in November. Martin is a guitarist and singer who has played a few coffee shops and entertains the men with his original compositions. He isn't sure what his future holds.

"We're going to turn (Lunchbox) over to the corpsmen in replace of us," Ledbetter says. "Obviously, we can't take him back. But it would be cool if we could."

"Yeah," Martin says. "That would be sweet."

Gifts for Dog Lovers


Post a Comment

<< Home