MANCHESTER, Conn. – When he came home from a 10-month deployment in Afghanistan, Sgt. Jason Halbach brought a friend — a 5-month-old stray puppy named Bravo.
His wife, Victoria Halbach, said she was thrilled — and happy to help in the monumental effort of getting “her two guys” stateside.
Halbach, who had been stationed just south of Kabul in the Ghazni Province of Afghanistan, returned home June 5 with his unit, the 143rd National Guard Military Police, following a 22-hour flight to Bradley International Airport.
Bravo preceded him, setting off two months earlier and arriving at Bradley a few days before he did. That meant a first-time trip to a groomer for a proper bath and spa treatment so he could join the family and greet Halbach’s plane.
Bravo is a long way from the land of his birth, and not just in miles.
Halbach said the dog wandered onto the military base when he was about 2 months old and was nearly run over by a truck.
Another soldier noticed the tiny ball of fur seeking to sit in the shade of the parked truck tires and drove a Bobcat to block the truck from moving.
It’s rare to see a stray dog on base, Halbach said, and especially uncommon to find an orphaned pup.
It’s also against military rules to keep one.
At first the soldiers let him roam and scavenge, but before long the soldiers built him a shelter, secured on the other side of the base and would feed him what they had: scraps of beef jerky and Girl Scout cookies.
“He grew on everybody,” Halbach said. And for a time, the dog had at least five or six names, including Bobcat and Rufus, depending on who you talked to, he said.
Halbach gave him the tag 22 Bravo, in honor of his team and the dog’s early foster family.
The soldiers tried to keep their mascot secret, and there were several close calls, Halbach said, as Bravo “did his best to thwart all of our plans.”
Bravo once broke free and was found lounging on the team’s front porch minutes before a sergeant was due to arrive.
The soldiers quickly moved him before he was seen, and the subterfuge went on for about a month. But eventually the ruse was up and command gave the soldiers an ultimatum: the dog leaves or faces death.
Financing was a stumbling block, though. It can cost $3,500 to $4,500 to ship an animal from Afghanistan to the United States. Riding on military transport is not allowed.
So Halbach got in touch with the British charity Nowzad Dogs, which helps American, Australian and United Kingdom soldiers bring home Afghan and Iraqi animals they’ve fallen in love with while overseas.
Started by a now-retired Royal Marine, Sgt. Pen Farthing, the charity has a shelter in Kabul where the animals are quarantined for 30 days, receive all their shots and veterinary treatment and a microchip. When they meet all legal requirements, Nowzad gets them crated and on board a flight that’s met by family members.
The soldiers paid a local shopkeeper to make the three-hour drive to the shelter, and Bravo’s ticket home was paid for in nine days through donations to the charity website and Facebook pages, Halbach said.