Puppy Love from Iraq to California
Pfc. Alexander R. Varela, 19, of Fernley, NV.
Died May 19th, 2007 in Baghdad, Iraq, when a roadside bomb exploded near their vehicle while on patrol. Also killed; Staff Sgt. Christopher Moore, 28, of Alpaugh, CA., Sgt. Jean P. Medlin, 27, of Pelham, AL., Spc. David W. Behrle, 20, of Tipton, IA., Spc. Joseph A. Gilmore, 26, of Webster, FL., Pfc. Travis F. Haslip, 20, of Ooltewah, TN.
Alex Varela was born 29 January 1988 and raised in California by his proud mother Rinda Pope of Orangevale, CA. According to Rinda, Alex always had a smile on his face and was everyone’s friend. Alex wasn’t shy and would strike up conversations with whoever would listen and usually get the other person laughing. His voice was very loud and would carry a long way; his mother felt he would be a preacher or radio announcer. His Father Roger H. Varela lived in Fernley Nevada, so Alex spent time with him riding quads out in the desert, shooting guns and having fun. Alex had many friends in both States.
Alex was an avid paintball competitor and turned his passion into commitment. He enlisted in the Army in April of 2006 and upon completion of basic training was assigned to A CO 1-5 CAV. PFC Varela arrived to Alpha Company in August of 2006 and immediately began training with the “Annihilators” in preparation for deployment to Iraq. In October 2006 PFC Varela deployed to Iraq with Alpha Company and the 1-5 CAV “Black Knights” for Operation Iraqi Freedom 06-08. PFC Varela loves photography and is always playing with the new puppies that had been born at FOB Hawk.
While on the base, the soldiers had trained a dog to help with protection of the base. The dog had puppies and the combat soldiers couldn’t help but take care of them, as well. The dogs at COP Annihilator were special to Private First Class Alejandro “Alex” Varela; and, to the dogs, Alex and the soldiers of Alpha Company, were special as well. Adopted as a force protection dog, one female would walk with the soldiers as they moved out on foot to observation posts, almost as if she wanted to be sure that they made it safely. This dog, and others, helped lift the spirits of Alex and other soldiers, as well as improving their security.
In going through his possessions, Alex’s mother was struck by the photographs of her son with the dogs. She began efforts to get one of the dogs, but was not having any success. Lt. Tom Hickey, Alex’s platoon leader, found out about her efforts from another soldier, Specialist Matthew Alford, and began working to get her something much more tangible than a letter or medal; one of the dogs that Alex had enjoyed so much.
While it wasn’t possible to send the official force protection dog, that dog, BP for Bradley Position, had recently had puppies. Now old enough to travel, DJ as she is known, needed a sponsor to escort her back on a civilian flight. The platoon’s efforts led them to contact Gryphon Airlines.
1LT Tom Hickey, Platoon Leader wrote the following letter to the airlines.
The result of that contact was a partnership between Gryphon Airlines, BlackFive, Soldiers’ Angels, and Prudent Publishing (parent company of The Gallery Collection) to escort DJ to the U.S. The PetSmart in Lafayette, IN, also contributed some chew toys to the effort.
DJ was named for another platoon member, Travis Dowd, in a bit of teasing humor. DJ was the only puppy to survive in her litter, and as a result ate rather well. So well, in fact that she got very large — too large for her feet. His platoon mates like to kid the well-developed Dowd, so they started calling the puppy Dowd Junior, or DJ for short. She was a typical puppy who chased her own tail and the chewing phase and was in good health. The platoon worked on housebreaking her, and on spoiled her as much as possible, even though no toe, sock, or boot was safe from DJ.
DJ arrived in Washington DC on January 3, 2008, where she was handed over upon clearing Customs and entry. DJ was then driven to California by a dog rescue group that delivered DJ to Rinda Pope. Nearly two years later after she arrived at her new home Rinda says, “DJ is a joy, she is a very sweet doggie and is really part of the family now.”
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