I really enjoyed “From Baghdad, with love“. The graphic language was disturbing but that is what made it such an interesting read. It was raw and real and opened my eyes to what our American soldiers have to deal with. “From Baghdad, with Love” is written by a United States Marine, Lieutenant Colonel Jay Kopelman with Melinda Roth. And I should warn that it should not be read by young children. The realities of war are ugly and this marine doesn’t hold back.
“From Baghdad, with Love” is about the Marine Jay Kopelman and a puppy he met in Fallhujah. This puppy was found in an abandoned house which the Marines were storming. As they eased into the house to do a search, they heard clicking noises and thought it could have been the enemy taking the pins out of grenades. They were awfully surprised when they found this cute little puppy instead. The Marines named the puppy Lava for the nickname of their own battalion, the Lava Dogs. The Lava Dogs are the First Battalion, Third Marines and they named themselves as such for hard rock in Hawaii where they trained.
Lieutenant Colonel Jay Kopelman has a way of telling the story that is both humorous and intense. As I am reading this story, I am biting my nails one moment then laughing like crazy the next. One such quote sticks in my mind, “…the best part is how these Marines, these elite, well-oiled machines of war who in theory can kill another human being in a hundred unique ways, become mere mortals in the presence of a tiny mammal.”
Lava is a special puppy in the sense that the military is not supposed to keep pets. Under General Order 1-A, they are not to keep pets or mascots or to care for or feed any type of domestic or wild animals. Lieutenant Colonel Jay Kopelman knows this but he can’t help but to risk breaking the rules with Lava. When the Marines found the puppy, they could have left him to fend for himself or killed him. But as Jay Kopelman says, The Marines are “Warriors, yes – puppy killers, no.”
As the Marines care for Lava, it soon becomes very clear that they will need to do something with him before they leave. Lava has become dependent on people and will surely die if they abandon him. But since they were not allowed to take care of Lava in the first place, finding a way to save him is difficult to the extreme.
But that is not the only thing that makes saving Lava problematic. It is not easy getting a dog out of Baghdad. Paperwork has to be completed. Borders are highly guarded and it is difficult for anyone to pass the border. The Marine couldn’t do it by himself because he was on duty. He got a reporter, an Iraqi, a military dog handler, and many more people to help.
Not only was there the risk of the Lieutenant Colonel getting in trouble for breaking the rules with a pet, but there was a risk to Lava as well. His very life was in danger. If a commanding officer gave the order to shoot all stray dogs, Lava could be a victim as well since he is not supposed to be a pet. Sadly, orders such as this are sometimes given out and then carried out meticulously. Lieutenant Colonel Jay Kopelman says, “… and I’ll be damned if I’m going to let anyone shoot my puppy.”
Lieutenant Colonel Jay Kopelman also shares some information about the elite military working dogs. These dogs definitely save lives since they are a thousand times better than any machine that humans have designed to detect bombs. As such, they are treated extraordinarily well while in service. But the reality is that when they retire, most are unadoptable and so have to be euthanized.
I mention and Jay Kopelman mentions these dogs because it is through one of the handlers of these dogs that Lava gets help. As stated before, saving Lava was not easy. Lieutenant Colonel Jay Kopelman does everything he can to get Lava to the US but he is forced to rely on others for assistance. He is oftentimes helpless as he waits anxiously to hear news on Lava’s status. “I pray that if Lava doesn’t make it through, he’ll find a body somewhere in Baghdad to keep him alive for just one more day.” “… I want Lava to stay alive… I want to know he’s breathing and leaping after dust balls and chasing imaginary enemies in his sleep.”
It took several tries before Lava finally made it to the US. When the Marine found out, he admitted that he cried with joy and relief. When Lava arrives in the US, Lieutenant Colonel Jay Kopelman is there waiting. While waiting, the news media asks, “What would you tell people who might suggest your time would have been better spent saving people instead of a dog?” He never answered the question, but this is what he would have liked to say, “… we’re not supposed to save anybody, it’s not our job, and if it was, we’d be shipping peace activists by the boatload over here to try to talk the insurgents into liking us.” He is also thinking, “Why wasn’t my time spent helping people instead of a puppy? I don’t know, and I don’t care, but at least I saved something.”
War is ugly. You have to wonder how these men and women involved make it through. How is it that they all don’t end up with post-traumatic stress syndrome? When all they are doing is killing and seeing death, how can they keep their sanity? “From Baghdad, with Love” is amazing because it shows that even when surrounded by the most inhumane conditions, that these trained killers can still be subdued with human emotion. If a fuzzy ball of fur can melt the heart of a trained killer, then there is hope for us all.