Best Defense chief canine correspondent
When it comes to soldiers taking in stray dogs in war zones, the official ban are clear, but the reality is that those in charge tend to turn a blind eye to these dogs because they have a way of boosting morale in dark places.
It is time to change the regulation and recognize reality. Those who support keeping the "don't pet, don't feed" ban in place need only talk to a group of U.S. soldiers stationed in Afghanistan who were mighty fortunate for the company of three stray dogs that the soldiers on base had more or less adopted -- Rufus, Sasha, and Target. One night last February a Taliban suicide bomber tried to infiltrate the army barracks where 50 soldiers were sleeping. But the bomber was taken completely by surprise when the three dogs attacked him, holding him back by biting his legs, finally forcing him to detonate the 24lbs of C4 explosives he had strapped to his body. The attacker never made it to the threshold.
However, the blast did damage enough. As one soldier recounts the explosion was big enough that the shrapnel alone caved in a wall. Five soldiers were injured and two of the dogs were seriously wounded. Sasha, the third dog, sustained wounds that were too severe and she had to be put down. The soldiers nursed Rufus and Target back to health.
A month later that unit was sent home, but Target and Rufus remained behind.
One soldier -- Sgt. Chris Duke -- who had grown particularly attached to Rufus, was worried about the dogs' welfare. He feared that the next unit might not want them around and that the dogs wouldn't be looked after, or worse, killed.
So Duke wrote a letter to Hope for the Warriors, a veteran's assistance group, asking that they help bring the two dogs "home." Within three months a Facebook campaign had collected upwards of $20,000.
Over the summer Target and Rufus made the trip from Afghanistan to Georgia -- Rufus was reunited with Sgt. Duke and Target with the army medic who nursed the dogs after the bombing.
"There isn't a doubt in my mind [that the dogs] saved my life," said Duke.
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.