By Kevin Tibbles
There are several enemies on the battlefield for a soldier in Afghanistan, and perhaps the one least discussed is homesickness. Living thousands of miles from family and loved ones and facing the ever-present dangers of war often take a toll on the troops. But inject some of that old-fashioned unconditional love and things become just a little more bearable. For many, that bond comes from having a dog - and in Afghanistan, there are plenty of strays.
To help pay back those four-legged friends who stuck by them through thick and thin, many soldiers are now adopting those dogs and reuniting with them back in the United States, thanks to a program started by a British soldier called "Nowzad Dogs."
"Having the dog for me was a way of just spending five minutes in normality," said Nowzad founder Cpl. Pen Farthing.
Farthing has now assisted some 250 Afghan strays with adoption in the United States, UK, Canada, Holland and Australia.
The organization American Dog Rescue is also involved, helping to spay and neuter the animals and ensure they are given all the necessary shots.
It was a touching moment recently at New York's JFK airport when the precious cargo of tail wagging, face licking friends arrived via an airlift of thanks from the troops who never forgot them.
Spc. Sheila Schaffer of the Iowa National Guard was there waiting for Charlie, a pooch she first found in a litter hiding underneath a building. Charlie, she says, was instrumental in keeping her morale up when she needed it most. She calls the dogs heroic.
"They're saving our souls. They're saving us inside," Schaffer said. "There are a lot of soldiers that get depressed being away from home and being away from their own pets and own families."
Offering these dogs a new, safe life far away from the war zone is just a soldier's way of saying thanks.