Orders to kill adopted puppy leave Florida soldiers mourning

Puppy Photo
Sgt. 1st Class Bill Ford of Melbourne poses with Apache, a stray dog Florida soldiers adopted near Balad, Iraq.
~Click photo to enlarge~

By Roger Roy
Sentinel Staff Writer
Posted December 11 2003

It's against the rules for U.S. soldiers in Iraq to have pets, but the skinny black puppy that wandered up to the Florida National Guard soldiers at a base in northern Iraq wouldn't go away.

So the soldiers from Alpha Co. of the 2nd Battalion of the 124th Infantry Regiment adopted the mutt and named her Apache after their radio call sign.

But Army regulations finally caught up with Alpha Co. and Apache.

Family members said Wednesday that the soldiers were eventually forced to obey orders and have the dog killed.

"My husband was devastated," said Maggie Ford of Melbourne, whose husband, Sgt. 1st Class Bill Ford, had hoped to bring the dog back to Florida. "We all cried when we found out."

Many wild and stray dogs, often unfriendly and even dangerous, roam the Iraq countryside. But soldiers said Apache was always friendly. At first, the men tried to ignore the eager pup, who kept sidling up to them begging for food while they kept guard at a checkpoint leading into Camp Anaconda, a huge American base outside Balad, about an hour north of Baghdad. But finally the soldiers gave in and took the dog back to their camp.

While affectionate with the 130 or so soldiers in the company, Apache could spot a stranger instantly and would bark and growl menacingly. She seemed to especially dislike officers, and in September nipped at a captain from another company who got too close.

But Apache would happily greet the soldiers when they returned from patrols, then roll over to have her belly rubbed and chew playfully on their arms.

Still, the soldiers were warned repeatedly that they were flouting the rules and that they had to get rid of the dog.

Maggie Ford said her husband was researching how to bring Apache back when the soldiers come home in February, but commanders last month gave the soldiers a deadline.

She said her husband couldn't bear to have the dog killed, so the soldiers drove Apache about 10 miles outside the base in the hope someone would take care of her.

Within three days, Apache had found her way back to camp, Maggie Ford said.

Finally, around Thanksgiving, the soldiers took their pet to a veterinarian, who destroyed her, she said.

Family members still don't have all the details. The soldiers from Alpha Co., who mostly train at the Leesburg armory, and those from Bravo Co., who train at the Sanford armory, have little access to telephones or e-mail at Camp Anaconda, and their families have infrequent contact with them.

But several said the soldiers were upset they had to have the dog destroyed.

"Their morale dropped," said Linda Wood of Sumterville, whose son Spc. Seth Wood is in Alpha Co. "There were some guys who were very, very attached to that dog."

Kim Alfonso of Tampa, whose husband, Sgt. 1st Class Mark Alfonso, is the leader of the platoon that adopted Apache, said she spoke to her husband after the dog was destroyed, but he was too upset to discuss what had happened.

She said her husband has tried to keep his men from dwelling on the dog's fate. The soldiers conduct frequent raids and patrols looking for guerrillas and can't afford to be distracted.

And while Apache's death was upsetting to many of the men and their families, Kim Alfonso said, it's a small tragedy in a place where hundreds of Americans, and still unknown numbers of Iraqis, have died since the war began.

Iraq, after all, is a place where life is hard enough for people, let alone animals.

Kim Alfonso said her husband recently had her mail him some clothes their 3-year-old daughter had outgrown so he could give them to children in the local villages, who often wear little more than rags.

"You have to keep things in perspective," Kim Alfonso said. "It's not like one of our guys was shot. We're talking about a dog. But it is sad."

Roger Roy can be reached at rroy@orlandosentinel.com or 407-420-5436.


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