Combat Zone Troops Comforted by Cats

 |  Dec 15th 2010  |   3 Contributions


Canadian Capt. Ken McCure plays with one of six orphaned kittens the soldiers at FOB Edgerton discovered last month and decided to keep. The soldiers named the kittens -- McClure is holding Mickey Blue Eyes -- and make sure they get plenty of attention. Photo by Megan McCloskey for Stars and Stripes

In the midst of the chaos of wartime, US soldiers and Marines are giving homes to some special refugees.

Mickey Blue Eyes, Fear Factor, and Butterscotch -- and many others -- are the stray cats of Afghanistan.

The soldiers and Marines adopt the four-legged war orphans and give them all the love that any animal back home could expect. And although regulations specifically prohibit "adopting as pets or mascots, caring for, or feeding any type of domestic or wild animal," military leadership has apparently adopted a policy of "don't bark, don't smell."

Commanders seem to understand that pets can boost soldiers' morale, so they turn a blind eye as long as the animals don't present health concerns or interfere with missions.

It is common in both Iraq and Afghanistan for units to adopt local [animals], said SPCA International spokeswoman Stephanie Scott. We have been told time and time again that these cats can be of great comfort and a little piece of home to our troops.

Spc. Jimmy Labbee, of the 1st Battalion, 66th Armor Regiments Company B, said: I can honestly speak for everybody else -- it definitely boosts our morale and gives us another bit of responsibility. It keeps our energy positive, playing with them and spending time with them.

At an outpost near Afghan National Police headquarters in Helmand province, U.S. Marines launched a "mission" during which two cats were taken from nearby Forward Operating Base Delhi, initially for the purpose of taking care of the mice plaguing the outpost.

The mice are long gone, but the cats remain.

The lucky felines are constantly showered with affection, and the Marines at the outpost have even been known to brag about them.

Theyre more like dogs than cats, one Marine said.

At FOB Edgerton in Kandahar province, soldiers recently discovered a litter of abandoned kittens. Knowing that they couldn't leave the little refugees to die, two Canadian servicemembers made a house for the six orphans by putting a blanket down and cutting a door into an upside down crate.

Word quickly spread about the kittens, and soon a dozen Canadian and American soldiers were standing around cooing at the babies as they went about their kittenish antics. By the following day they all had names.

The six tiny felines have never been left wanting for attention. The soldiers bring them eggs, tuna and chocolate milk from the dining facility; one even made a point of putting drops in their eyes every day to ward off conjunctivitis. There's always at least one soldier sitting with the kittens, no matter the time of day.

U.S. military officials were reluctant to discuss stray animals taken in as pets because despite the fact that adopting local cats is commonplace, it is still against regulations.

One official who was willing to address the controversy was Lt. Col. Matthew Reid, commander of the 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment. He said he has much more important things to worry about in the life-and-death world of a war zone than who might be sneaking a puppy or kitten into their bunk at night.

I really havent given it too much thought, to be honest, he said, adding that he was aware of cats employed on some bases to address rodent concerns. My focus is usually elsewhere.

Its probably not wise to allow troops to keep indigenous animals as pets, for many reasons. Although, with 50 outposts in my [area of operation], there may be a few violators.

[Source: Stars and Stripes]

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