(TOUCHING TALE) Donny Eslinger may have rescued his puppy from the war zone in Afghanistan, but Smoke was really the one doing the rescuing. In addition to being a good friend, he was a welcome presence for the soldiers, boosting morale and giving much needed hugs and kisses. Pets have often proven to give therapeutic help to soldiers overseas, and those recovering from PTSD at home. Read more on this touching tale of a soldier and his dog. — Global Animal
Orlando Sentinel, Gary Taylor
Donny Eslinger was on a mission in Afghanistan last August when he encountered perhaps the friendliest face of his tour of duty there.
It was a small puppy, and it was love at first sight.
Eslinger — son of Seminole County Sheriff Don Eslinger Sr. — rescued the puppy, stashing him in his backpack for the hike back to a checkpoint where he was stationed.
The puppy he named Smoke became an instant sensation when a photo of Eslinger with the puppy in his backpack made the cover of Army Life magazine.
“He didn’t whimper or whine,” the senior Eslinger said of his son’s new friend. “He was going into MRE [Meals Ready to Eat] heaven.”
Smoke proved to be a morale booster when a member of the company was killed the following day, Donny Eslinger later told his father.
A little more than a month after he rescued Smoke, it was Donny Eslinger, 20, who needed to be rescued.
He was hit by mortar fire while on patrol Sept. 24, suffering a penetrating chest wound, a head injury, broken ribs and a broken leg. He also lost his spleen.
He underwent surgery the next day at Kandahar Airfield Hospital and was transferred to Bagram Airfield Combat Support Hospital, where he was placed in a medically induced coma and was on a ventilator.
Don Eslinger flew to Germany to be with his son at Landstuhl Army Regional Medical Center before Donny was flown to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.
At Walter Reed, President Barack Obama presented Donny Eslinger with a Purple Heart for being injured in the line of duty.
His father is almost at a loss for words when asked to describe that moment.
“It was very nice,” the elder Eslinger said. It was also a touching moment for his son, he said.
After spending several weeks at the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital in Tampa, Donny Eslinger was returned last week to Walter Reed, where he will undergo more surgery, his father said.
Don Eslinger Sr. left Central Florida on Monday to join his son at Walter Reed, and he took along a companion: Smoke.
The 7-month-old puppy arrived at Orlando International Airport last Wednesday, five months to the day after Eslinger’s fellow soldiers in Afghanistan set in motion plans to send the dog to him.
The elder Eslinger said he has arranged to board the dog with a veterinarian near Walter Reed so he can take him to visit his son.
Donny has told his dad he can’t wait to be reunited with his pup.
During this stay at Walter Reed, doctors will do exploratory surgery and close Donny Eslinger’s chest wound. Then, in a second surgery, they will use a titanium plate to replace a portion of his skull that had to be removed because of swelling, his father said.
“There is nothing physically that would prevent him from making a full recovery,” Eslinger said. “He’s doing remarkably well. I’m just so proud of him and how far he has come.”
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