U.S. Marine Saves A Life In Afghanistan, Not Knowing Someday He’d Be Saved In Return
U.S. Marine Craig Grossi was deployed to the ongoing war in Afghanistan, and soon found himself in the course of duty stationed in the thick of one of the most hellish places on the planet. But in the chaos of bullet and mortar fire, something happened that he could never have predicted.
Through the firefights, intense heat, and constant danger and stress of the war in Afghanistan, he saved a most unusual friend in the most unlikely and turbulent of circumstances. As he would soon discover, this was a companion who would do anything to help — and who one day would help save Craig in return.
1. Dangerous Deployment
Virginia resident Craig Grossi had been seeking a heightened sense of responsibility in his life. He decided to enlist in the military, and went through the rigorous, grueling training that would make him a U.S. Marine. In summer 2010, he was deployed to one of the most dangerous places on Earth: Afghanistan.
As part of the 2010 troop surge, Craig would be sent into the very thick of the action. At the time, he knew his mission was to protect the Coalition positions. But there, far away from home, was a soul waiting to be saved, who one day would end up helping to save him in return.
2. A Perilous Tour
It was to be trial by fire. Once he had arrived with his unit to Afghanistan, Craig was sent into the thick of the raging war. Their mission would bring them to the Helmand Province in the south of the country, considered one of the particularly dangerous pockets in a hotbed of insurgency activity.
Attached to a group of Reconnaissance Marines, Craig’s task was to collect intelligence while protecting his position. In this tumultuous region, filled with Afghan refugees fleeing the Taliban, he knew what he was in for. The U.S. Marine had no idea how bad things would get, though — and what surprise was about to come into his life.
3. Belly Of The Beast
In a war-torn country suffering from long years of uncertainty and instability, the Sangin District of Helmand Province was considered one of the most dicey places for anyone, civilian and soldier alike. The British Royal Marines were being pulled out of their positions, and the U.S. Marine units took over.
As he was debriefed, Craig learned that the area had been a Taliban stronghold for years. Because of their tight control, the amount of arms and resources that they had been able to amass there were far more dangerous and numerous than anywhere else in the country. It was going to be a nightmare.
4. The Heat Of Battle
The U.S. Marine base in Sangin had a limited number of positions to fire from, and the soldiers were outnumbered by the Taliban forces nearby. The insurgents fired at the Marines with all their capacity of weapons, bullets flying, machine guns rattling, mortars and RPGs shrieking through the air and exploding.
After seven days of nonstop fire and combat, Craig’s nerves began to collapse from shell shock. To make matters worse, the temperature in the Registan Desert could reach up to 115 degrees. If there was a Hell on Earth, this was surely it. But in between the dripping sweat and ear-shattering explosions, Craig found a moment of solace. And what he noticed in that respite was highly unusual.
5. A Sudden Quiet
In a quiet lull between the volleys of bombardment, Craig took the time to clean and check his rifle and to prepare himself something to eat. As he did that, out of the corner of his eye, he noticed a small stray dog that was loitering around the edge of the base.
Any foreign movement encroaching on the grounds of their base was bound to attract this U.S. Marine’s attention, but there was something unusual about this dog. The way it was behaving and the way it looked demanded his attention the way no other one had. He couldn’t help but investigate.
6. A Most Peculiar Visitor
The dog cautiously wandering around the perimeter of the U.S. Marine base in Sangin was surprisingly unique. He had an air to him that was unusually energetic. Many of the feral dogs prowling the villages of the Afghan desert were vicious or rabid, but this dog demonstrated something completely different, at least in appearance.
And what Craig was able to observe about the stray dog from a distance made his presence that much more apparent. Because of how lively the canine was, he stood out against the stark harshness of the area. Craig decided he would take a chance with the stray. Such an effort was decidedly against protocol, which would make the outcome all the more incredible.
7. Wild And Hungry
Up until that point, Craig had stayed away from the dogs he’d encountered in Afghanistan. The U.S. Marine company had been instructed to keep a healthy distance from them and not to have any interaction with them. It had been fairly obvious why it was not a wise idea to do so.
Most of the stray dogs in the area were incredibly nasty, roaming in angry, hungry packs. It was in their nature to be vicious in order to survive the arid surroundings, as well as the ravages of war. But because this dog seemed friendly, Craig took a chance, and offered him a piece of beef jerky, unsure of the reaction.
8. Pleased To Meet You
As Craig got closer to the stray dog he almost decided to turn back around, repulsed. The dog’s fur was matted and filthy with grit. Black bugs, as big as dimes, were crawling on him and embedded in his fur, especially on his head and neck. It was a sorry sight. But then Craig heard something he did not expect.
The dog’s tail was wagging frantically, thumping with excitement. As it struck the ground, his joy was enough to whip up a swirl of dust around him. Craig knew then how desperate the lonely dog was for love. And what the dog was about to do was going to take him by surprise.
9. Against All Odds
The stray dog then did something else that caught Craig completely off guard. No matter his desperate condition, or how hungry he may have been, the dog didn’t snatch the beef jerky out of the U.S. Marine’s hand. Rather, he accepted it from him in a manner that was remarkably gentle.
He chewed it carefully and slowly. He didn’t wolf it down. But despite being enchanted, Craig had to return to his mission at hand — the Taliban could start firing at any moment, and he was on duty. Yet even as he returned to his gear, he felt a poke. He whirled around, startled.
10. ‘Looks Like A Fred’
The stray dog had followed Craig, looking up at him with imploring eyes, curious, a gaze filled with soul. In the middle of the hot and violent Afghan desert, it was the last thing he could have expected. A fellow Marine saw the interaction and called out, “Looks like you made a friend!”
Craig misheard him and thought he had said, “Looks like a Fred!” And from that moment on, his fate was decided. The newly-named Fred the dog and his human became inseparable. But Craig himself had no way of knowing just how far this dog would go — or how he would change the course of his future.
11. Childhood Dream
Having a dog as a companion was very personal for Craig. Ever since he was a child, the Marine had always wanted to have a dog, but his family preferred cats. Lo and behold, here before him his dream was coming true, and of all places, it was in the middle of wartime in Afghanistan.
Craig and a fellow Marine groomed Fred and removed the bugs from his fur as the stray dog patiently waited. He even asked the local Afghan villagers whose dog Fred was, because he was so friendly that he had clearly been tamed. They insisted he was a stray. Wherever Craig went, Fred was sure to follow. And he would soon discover how crucial that seemingly inconspicuous action would be.
12. Faithful Companion
Fred blended himself nicely with his Marine friend’s daily routine. Even when Craig was on duty, patrolling the area, talking with local Afghan villagers, or sleeping, the dog stayed with him. For both of them as for all others in their camp, danger was everywhere, whether from snipers, mortars, or roadside explosive devices.
By his mere presence, the sweet-natured Fred came to represent a beacon of light, innocent, and pure joy in that dark place. For the Marines on Craig’s base, Fred came to be the embodiment of all they sought to protect. But the two of them were about to face a huge dilemma.
13. How To Say Goodbye
When Craig’s tour of duty came to a close, he knew he didn’t want to pack up and say farewell to Fred. The dog had become a part of his life now and Craig felt a driving desire to do something to preserve, protect, and keep him. But it was posing an enormous challenge and time was of the essence as the days drew closer to Craig shipping out.
All the odds seemed stacked against him, and as much as Craig fought against it, in the back of his head, the U.S. Marine had to prepare himself for a very real and painful scenario: saying goodbye to his furry friend forever. He couldn’t bear having that happen. So he chose to do something risky that would end up impacting both of their fates.
14. A New Mission
Craig recognized he had an upcoming window of opportunity. He was going to be collected by helicopter and taken for two weeks of R&R at Camp Leatherneck in Afghanistan, before returning to the fighting in Sangin. It was during that time that Craig devised that he could smuggle Fred out, not just from Sangin but out of the country.
But being caught smuggling a stray dog was not just a violation of U.S. Marine protocol. Craig and his comrades in arms had been informed that if they were found with a dog they had adopted, it would not just be released. In fact, it would be euthanized. The prospect was too hard for Craig to decide on his own.
15. Natural Instinct
Craig didn’t want to defy U.S. Marine protocol, but the thought of abandoning Fred was unbearable. Craig needed Fred to make the choice himself whether he wanted to come with or not. If the dog wouldn’t be freaked out by the sight of the helicopters landing, and followed Craig regardless, then it was meant to be.
As the choppers landed at the base that fateful morning, their whirring propellers stirred up choking clouds of brown sand. Through the noise and the blinding dust storm, the Marines rushed forward and piled into their seats. Yet Fred was nowhere to be found — and the time had come for Craig to get on board.
16. Group Effort
Suddenly, just as he was a moment away from stepping onto the helicopter, Craig felt something at his heel. It was Fred! The dog seemed nervous and skittish but determined to follow his pal. And even though Fred was frightened, Craig took it as enough of a sign as he would ever get.
To Craig’s delight, his master sergeant and his fellow soldiers were also ready to help him smuggle the dog. The master sergeant then came over with a duffel bag, lifted up Fred and plopped him down inside the bag, and yelled to Craig over the roar of the helicopter: “We’re doing this!” They lifted off for Camp Leatherneck, but they were all far from being in the clear.
17. Obstacle After Obstacle
At the new camp, Craig smuggled Fred over to the camp postal service. The manager of the postal service offered to hide the dog for Craig. He wanted to get the dog out of Afghanistan and to the US, but it would require a lot of forms to fill out and endless procedures, including a veterinarian’s authorization.
Saving his friend was to be one of the most difficult and taxing things this U.S. Marine had ever done. It required jumping through hoops, with the intervention of an international team of volunteers, from Uganda, the United States, the United Kingdom, the Philippines, and Indonesia. Yet with so many people involved and trying so desperately to help, success was far from guaranteed.
18. Home Free
Ultimately, the time came for Craig to return to the field of battle in Sangin. Thankfully, at long last, Fred received clearance. His paperwork was checked out, and he was all ready to be sent overseas. Fred was packed in a kennel and flown safely all the way to the other side of the world.
Craig’s father and sister drove several hours up north from their home in DC suburbs. At New York’s JFK Airport, they welcomed Fred to his new home in America. They received the dog at customs and took care of him until Craig got back. But Craig was a changed man.
19. A Changed Man
Several months later, after Fred had begun to acclimate to his new life in the United States, Craig finally finished his mission in Afghanistan and was sent home. But it was a bittersweet reunion between the two friends. Craig had been through Hell and back, and it showed.
Craig was traumatized by the constant firing he had been under. Two of his colleagues from his unit had died in action. Though he had succeeded in getting the dog out of Afghanistan, he was carrying a huge emotional burden with him. He had saved the dog — and now the dog was about to save him.
20. The Aftermath Of Combat
As he tried to adjust to civilian life, Craig was plagued by nightmares. Being in large crowds frightened him. He didn’t want to talk to anyone about what he had gone through in Afghanistan, so he had no way of dealing with his trauma. He quit the Marines and started working in a government job in DC.
In Craig’s spare time, he took Fred around the capital for walks and runs to clear his head. As it turned out, it was being out on the streets with Fred that would prove to be a life-saver. In his own roundabout way, Fred was about to demonstrate to his human exactly how he had rescued him.
21. Fred Meets Washington
The handsome dog Fred became an instant conversation piece, a way to break the ice with strangers. Passersby were enthralled by the cute and enthusiastic dog, and asked what breed he was. It was precisely what Craig needed. It was a way for him to open up and share his personal experiences from Afghanistan.
Craig could finally open up about everything: his fallen U.S. Marine comrades, the Taliban, the Afghan refugees, and above all else, the tale of that first, fated tail wag. People loved it. A spark was lit inside Craig. Though his service as a Marine in wartime combat was over, in reality, his journey was just about to begin.
22. Free Therapy
The more Craig went out with Fred, the more it helped him release everything he had bottled inside from his experiences in the Battle of Sangin during the Afghanistan War. Craig saw just how much people were curious to hear about his and Fred’s story, and for him, it was a means of therapy.
It was exactly what Craig needed. Fred’s joy was infectious, not only to him but for everyone who encountered him. Craig realized that other people needed to hear his extraordinary tale too. Ordinary people somehow thirsted for happy stories of redemption like Fred’s. Craig understood then what he had to do.
23. Stubborn Positivity
Craig analyzed Fred’s behavior and personality, and traced it all back to one essential moment that defined him: that first outburst of joy in their first meeting in the harshest of places. He called Fred’s character trait “Stubborn Positivity,” and saw that he needed to adopt it as his own personal philosophy.
In those difficult moments in which everything seemed to be falling apart and not going as desired, thinking about Fred’s example became a way for Craig to remember to react even to those moments through positivity — to find something to be glad about and give thanks for it. He changed his life direction.
24. The Path Unfolds
Craig quit his government job and enrolled at DC’s Georgetown University, taking Fred with him. Fred had not just affected his thinking, but the course of his life. At long last Craig actually felt adjusted and comfortable around others in a classroom setting, and found he had a passion for writing. Behind it all, his emotional state improved drastically and he continued to heal and adjust.
Fred had helped bring him his U.S. Marine buddy out of the grip of PTSD. It was obvious to Craig that if he had not taken a chance to save this dog from Afghanistan, he could have been in a far darker place with no light in sight. He now understood the new path of his life: to reach out and inspire others.
25. Fred Meets America
Over the next three years, Craig wrote his own memoirs, entitled: Craig and Fred: A Marine, A Stray Dog, And How They Rescued Each Other. He now travels across the country as a speaker, accompanied by his girlfriend Nora, their other dog Ruby, and of course, the star of the show, Fred himself.
Craig’s mission is to help others see how stubborn positivity can affect their life choices and trajectory. He wants people to remember that when things seem most dark, there will always be a reason to find joy and continue onward. For this veteran of battle and PTSD survivor, that reason happened to be irresistibly fluffy with a persistently-wagging tail.
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