Don't Ever Call Me A Hero

A verbal knife hand to the masses.

Animals in the War Zone

Cocoa and I, June 2005

Cocoa and I, June 2005

During my tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, I came across many different types of wildlife. Camels, camel spiders, terrorists, a giant porcupine, goats, and sheep. But I also ran across some very friendly dogs and cats. Dogs, as you know, are frowned upon in muslim societies as being dirty and lowly animals. They are often not treated well… until the right Marine comes along.

First, Afghanistan circa June 2005. The brown dog was, aptly and intelligently named, Cocoa. Not my choice. I would have called him Killer or something badass. Anyways, the dog became rather attached to me after I fed him a couple MREs. I would stand a four hour post during the late nights, and find the dog curled up on my cot, pictured here. He was a tenacious little bastard too.

I would have to pick him up and set him on the floor, where he would remain the rest of the night. He taught me a valuable lesson, too. Don’t eat the sausage meat from the chow hall. Seriously. If a wild Afghan dog won’t eat it…. maybe you shouldn’t either.

Nipples' pups

Nipples' pups

Cocoa wasn’t the only dog we had at FOB Mehtarlam. There was Nipples, named for her, you guessed it, nipples that almost dragged in the dirt she had so many puppies. I don’t have a picture of her, but I do have the following pics of her offspring.

Nipples' other pup

Nipples' other pup

Cute little bastards. We used to have local vendors come to the base every Sunday and hold a Bazaar, or market, full of food, pirated movies, trinkets of Afghan civilization, and even ancient Roman coinage. One day, a local brought a monkey. Where in the hell he found a monkey in Afghanistan, I have no idea. So, we bought him for $10 US and named him George. That’s right. George loved canned fruit and sitting on heads.

Curious...

Curious...

George also wasn’t vaccinated and was most likely a carrier for some disease unbeknownst to us, or so our corpsmen said. We gave him to the local Afghan National Army troops because of these “medical reasons.”

It was fun while it lasted. Shortly after George, we had to move bases to Asadabad on the Pakistan border, due to increased enemy activity in the region. Winter followed, and late at night we would burn fires in wood burning stoves on the guard posts. That’s when this little fellow would come by. I named him Kitty.

Kitty. That's right.

Kitty. That's right.

He would come and sit next to the wood burning stove, which can be seen in the picture. I would feed him MREs and he would come back night after night to keep me company. Nice cat, that one.

Let’s skip forward a year to 2006, where in Barwanah, Iraq, we discovered the cutest little pup around the motor pool. Our Humvee mechanic befriended this little guy with the aid of some chow, and named him Ratchet. He was a fiesty but lovable little pup you could always count on hanging out around the trucks and appreciating some leftovers from the chow hall. He loved to play but was gentle, and never bit a Marine. He did, however, run from the insurgents we would capture and take back to the base for imprisonment. Smart dog, huh?

Then, I found wild dogs scrummaging through our trash late one night. I was patrolling between guard posts at about 3 in the morning, making sure every Marine was vigilant and bringing coffee to whoever wanted it. It took a couple weeks for me to befriend the following dog, nicknamed White Fang, or as I called him, Whitey. You can see how creative Marines are with names. I digress.

After coaxing him nearer and nearer with beef jerky, MREs, and leftover hamburgers from the chow hall, Whitey finally let me pet him. He was scarred from fights with other wild dogs, all skin and bones, too. He instantly rolled over on his back and I rubbed his belly. This dog and I became inseparable. He began to head out on combat patrols with us, scanning ahead and becoming vigilant to help us out. The dog became so loyal that he would perk up and start growling silently when there was danger. Sure enough, a firefight would start and Whitey would be right there with us. The picture below is of Whitey and I in an ambush position on the Euphrates river.

Ambush!

Ambush!

For five hours straight we sat in this ambush. Insurgents had been gun running up and down the river in little skiff boats, and we were planning to catch them in action. Whitey laid down, never making a noise, the entire time. He was so keen on the mission, and so loving of his new master, he would have followed us to the death. I loved that dog. He was a great animal and I wish that I would have been able to take him back home with me.

Even in times of war, in strife, there is beauty. There is love, brotherly and otherwise. And there is compassion for all living things, whether friend or foe, human or animal. Semper Fi.

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12 Responses

  1. meeks says

    hey perna. you probably don’t remember me. I was in 1st plt, offers’ squad in barwahna. I was wondering the name of your book and when it comes out. I would like to read it

  2. Glenda Damaske says

    Mark your name sounds familiar do you know my son Jared Damaske? He is a Marine and was in Afghanistan in 2005 with 2/3 Fox 3. He is back there now with 1/8 H&S Co. He was infantry in 05. He is now an MP. Please let me know and I would love to read your book. Have your read “Victory Point Operation Redwings and Whalers” by Ed Darack ? Ok so I just looked in the book and found your name! I thought so! Small world! Semper Fi, Glenda a proud Marine Mom!

  3. James Kepp says

    Hey brother, it’s great what y’all are all doing for us here in the USA. I work at UGA University of Georgia and our mascot is the Bulldawg DAWGS for short. We love all kinds of dawgs here in Athens Ga. God bless you, you combat buddies, the people there and all gods creatures in harms way. You have brought joy to me today just checking out your web site. I’ll be sure and tell folks here. Take care, Semper Fi………….James Kepp

  4. Mark Perna says

    Unfortunately, there was no way to bring the dog home, though I believe there is a book about a Marine Officer who managed to get one vaccinated and sent home with him. Then again, he was an officer, so I’m sure it was easier to bend the rules for him.

  5. MandatedKibbles says

    Cool story.I just want to know if you think there would have been any way to bring that dog back with you because it sounded like he really loved?just asking.

  6. Johanna says

    LOVE this story and the pics!!!

  7. Deaf Indian Muslim Anarchist says

    every time I visit my relatives in India, I see stray cats and dogs. I always want to pet them, but everyone warns me not to. Sheez.

    Hamo is right, dogs aren’t really outcasted in Muslim societies. While Islam says that dogs are “unclean” (but not forbidden), a lot of Muslims own dogs. My father grew up in a Muslim household (in India) and they had 2 or 3 dogs.

    It just depends on each individual or family.

  8. Hamo says

    Hey I really like how even when your in a hostile environment like Iraq and Afghanistan you still find it in your heart to help other animals in need. I’m from the United Arab Emirates and I not all Muslim societies outcast dogs, I adopted quite a few in my life.

  9. Carrie O'Brien says

    You are absolutely amazing. Thanks so much for showing humanity in a very inhumane country. Really excited about the book. Can hardly wait for it to come out! and if I haven’t told you already, Thanks! Thanks for everything!

  10. Nicholas says

    its nice to see the nicer side of the marine corps

  11. Peter Hancock says

    Amazing…I would love to be kept posted on your book. I live in brisbane australia.

    Pete

  12. shaun says

    thats rad,loyalty friendship and love knows no limits too bad its not always seen that.thanks for keeping this a free country and fighting for all of us and the red white and blue.