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Tom's Story

I was stationed in Iraq for 14 months. I was with a 10 man team on the Syrian border embedded with the Iraq Border guards with no other American Bases or anything near us. While I was there I raised 5 dogs from puppies. These were puppies I collected from different Forts we were responsible for.

It was then when I realized how much a dog can have an effect on a person’s ability to handle stressful situations. I do not know the breeds but the names were Snowball, Tank, Rock, Snoopy and Taz. Every time we came back from our missions which could last from 3 hours to 48 hours we would always be worn out physically and mentally. When we had our down time and were not sleeping every Marine had there different ways to decompress and relax. Marines would watch movies, draw, play cards or read.

When I had down time it was always spent with my dogs, playing with them or just laying around with them in the dirt because they would not come into our tents. I remember one time we came back from a patrol and had only a couple of hours to get some sleep before we left again. While everyone went to the tent to get some sleep I just lay against the tire of the vehicle and slept. When I woke up all 5 dogs were sleeping around me and on my legs. All 5 dogs would be at the gate when are vehicle pulled up and would follow us all the way to our area.

At the end of our tour I was getting briefed on my fitness report by my commanding officer. He said to me the one thing he always liked about me and could never understand how I did it was my positive attitude. He gave me an example: We had just got done with a mission and were heading back to the fort when one of our vehicles broke down. We used one of the other vehicles to tow it but it got stuck in the mud. It was raining and very cold. Only having three vehicles and no support we had a long night until we were able to get back to the fort. He said the there was a time when tempers were flaring and people were arguing. He told me the one thing he remembers is when I stood on the vehicle and said “ hey gents it could always be worse, it could be snowing or we could be going back with less than 10 Marines”. After a pause from everyone everything changed and the work went smooth people calmed down.

He said you were the only one in the 14 months that had never stressed out and always had a positive attitude at the worst of time how are you able to do it. I told him it was simple My Dogs I told him 15 minutes of affection and playing with those dogs did more for me than watching a movie, sleeping or playing any games. The dogs did not care if I was tired mad they just wanted to be with me and that is what helped me keep my positive attitude through a 14 month deployment. On a good note Snow Ball was pregnant when I left and every fort we were responsible for had at least two dogs living at the fort.

The Border guards realized they are good guard dogs that bark at anyone coming to the fort so the good thing is there were a lot of wild dogs that would have been left in the desert now live at forts and are taken care of. I could go on forever about the dogs and how we worked together the whole time I was there. I watched Snow Ball go from the runt of the five to the Alpha female of them all.