34.9438° N, 69.2632° E.
These are the GPS coordinates for the largest and busiest U.S. military base in Afghanistan, the Bagram Airbase. A place that played a crucial role in the War on Terror. A place not for the weak of heart.
The base lies 39 miles north of the capital Kabul in a high-plains desert 4,895 feet above sea level in Parvan Province, where temperatures can soar as high as 110 Fahrenheit degrees in the summer and dip as low as zero degrees in the winter. The climate varies between arid and semi-arid. Dust storms and sand storms occur frequently while the Hindu Kush mountain range, occupied by the Afghan resistance, lingers like a barrier in the not too far distance.
At its height, more than 40,000 soldiers called this base their home away from home, and more than 140,000 operations a year were carried out, including the mission of Seal Team Six to capture Osama Bin Laden. It’s a place where over 2,500 members of the U.S. military died fighting and a place where 20,000 U.S. troops were wounded in combat.
This war zone is also where a U.S. Marine from Pennsylvania meets his four-legged savior from Bagram. Or is it the other way around?
Man’s Best Friend
U.S. Marine Bill* was in the Active Reserve (AR) program for the U.S. Marines Forces Reserve when informed he was to be deployed overseas. He completed additional simulated battlefield training, then packed up his seabag and 782 Gear—collectively weighing 300 pounds. Leaving his wife and young daughter behind, he boarded a military flight and traveled to Afghanistan to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies. His new home was to be the barracks on the Bagram base, behind large concrete barriers called T-walls, topped off with razor wire.
Days soon become weeks. Weeks become months. The calendar was becoming a blur. But it was during his service time in Bagram that Marine Bill discovered a furry little creature living in a drainpipe, covered in dust and hungry for food.
He shared, “I found Raisin about a few days after Thanksgiving. She was in a drainage pipe under one of the towers I maintain. She would come close, but not enough to pet. She was young, little, and unsure of what this human wanted. She wouldn’t eat the cheese, bacon, or turkey I left her. This went on for a few days.”
The tiny four-legged canine quickly became a bright spot in Marine Bill’s days on the base.
Marine Bill continued. “Finally, one day as I visited her, I was eating my favorite cookie, oatmeal raisin. She came closer, ate a little bit—without raisins—and proceeded to not only come close enough for me to pet, but followed me to my truck. She loved that cookie for sure, so I named her Raisin.”
Marine Bill took Raisin back to his quarters, and the two developed a deep bond. It’s unknown who needed more at this one point, but it’s fair to say their admiration for each other was mutual. So much so that Marine Bill decided he wanted to bring Raisin home to the States when he finished his tour of duty in Afghanistan. He knew his wife and daughter would love Raisin as much as he did. Now he just needed to figure out how.
Winning the War for Animals
Determined, Marine Bill reached to an animal shelter in Kabul, Nowzad Charity, known to locals as the only clinic in Afghanistan that helps soldiers bring home their rescued dogs and cats. Not only would Nowzad drive out to retrieve Raisin from Bill, but the staff would take care of her and complete all of the necessary legwork to send Raisin to the U.S. with her Marine.
Nowzad is a frontline animal clinic providing vital welfare care to animals in Afghanistan. It reunites soldiers with their battle buddies in various countries around the world, including the USA, UK, Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Holland, Italy, Spain, Jordan, Thailand, and South Africa. The nonprofit was founded in 2006 by Sgt. Pen Farthing, a former British Royal Marines commando, who saw the need for the animal shelter after rescuing a dog and noticing the number of strays roaming the streets. The clinic survives on donations.
On the Nowzad website, Marine Bill wrote a plea for a good-hearted Samaritan to hopefully fund Raisin’s journey home to his family in the U.S. He shared how he found Raisin and the vital role she has played in his life in Afghanistan.
He ended his request with, “It would mean a lot not only to me but my 5-year-old daughter and family back home if I brought her home. Raisin and I have bonded, and she goes everywhere I go and is a huge morale boost for all military and civilian personnel who come to our AO. I’m hoping with the help of anyone willing to help, I’ll be able to fly her home in the spring when I leave. Thank you and much appreciation in advance for all those who are helping me accomplish this very special mission.”
Founder and CEO of Nowzad Dogs Sgt. Farthing commented, “The Nowzad Charity has reunited over 1400 soldiers with the dog or cat that they have compassionately rescued within the midst of war, bonded with, and cannot bear to leave behind. These battle buddies are a lifeline to their soldier, providing hope, comfort and positivity in a situation where there is often none.”
No Dog Gets Left Behind
After receiving little interest in funding Raisin’s plight, the shelter reached out to Trish Gohl, Founder of No Dog Gets Left Behind (NDGLB), in hopes the nonprofit could raise funds to bring Raisin home with her Marine. NDGLB is a Philadelphia-based, all-volunteer 501(c)(3) charitable organization that provides financial support to reunite U.S. military personnel before and after their return to the States with their rescued stray found in war zones during deployment.
Gohl founded NDGLB in 2009 in honor of her own dog’s memory after watching the heartwarming documentary “No Dog Left Behind” on the Military Channel. To date, over 80 solider/dog reunions have been funded by NDGLB.
“I realized the deep bonds that are formed between wartime soldiers and their battle buddies,” said Gohl. “These important animals not only help our heroes in the war zone, but they also help them readjust to life back home after combat and minimizing the impact of PTSD.”
In early 2019, Steve Berman, Director of Fundraising for NDGLB, reached out to Rajant Corporation to help make a difference in the lives of one soldier and one canine. A “Big Dog” sponsorship would not only cover vaccines, medical treatment, spaying/neutering, and transportation of the befriended dog. but more importantly, bring much-needed comfort and joy to the soldier as he readjusts to civilian life once he returns.
Berman presented Rajant with several soldier/dog duos needing funding and asked for any assistance that the company might provide. Rajant chose Raisin and her human hero, Marine Bill, and signed on as a Big Dog sponsor for their 2019 Spring Fling fundraiser, donating the full amount of the reunion to the nonprofit. In so doing, Rajant became NDGLB’s very first Big Dog sponsor since its founding.
Word reached the Nowzad Shelter that Raisin had found a sponsor and had been fully funded. After three months of quarantine, medical treatment, and receiving approval to travel, Raisin was released to fly home on a commercial airline to the U.S. where Marine Bill’s wife and family were anxiously awaiting her arrival, prior to Marine Bill’s own return from the war zone in Afghanistan.
“Marine Bill and Raisin developed a very special bond under very difficult circumstances. He would probably agree that Raisin rescued him, giving him that important connection to normalcy and love that typically doesn’t exist in war zones,” said Berman. “Rajant’s Big Dog sponsorship of our 2019 Spring Fling fundraiser made it possible to bring Raisin home to Bill, allowing them to continue their special relationship and helping Bill with his readjustment to life back in the States. We are extremely grateful to Rajant for their generous support of No Dog Gets Left Behind, and we look forward to a long relationship with them.”
In May 2019, Raisin was sent to her new home in the U.S. with her Marine departing not too far after.
Retired Sgt. Farthing chimed in from Afghanistan, “I am hoping you have seen that Raisin is now at home safe in the USA! Happy days!” He added, “Raisin and her soldier are a fine example of that and we cannot thank everyone enough who supported our vital mission in reunited Raisin with her savior in the USA. We still have so many more dogs and cats that need help to be reunited with their soldiers.”
In the end, it doesn’t matter if Marine Bill saved Raisin or if Raisin saved Marine Bill. What matters is that they found each other when they needed each other most in a war combat zone. A true tale about love, loyalty, and most of all, friendship between a man and his best friend.
* The last name of U.S. Marine Bill was withheld to protect the privacy of the individual.