Soldier reunites with his K-9 best friend

From The Dispatch (http://www.the-dispatch.com/)

By Sharon Myers
Published: Monday, June 15, 2015 at 12:30 a.m.

When Sgt. Shane Strange of Lexington was serving with the U.S. National Guard he met a young female who would become an important part of his life. Fortunately for him (and his wife) she was a German shepherd named Julia who had been assigned to his unit.

Strange is a graduate of North Davidson High School who signed up for the National Guard several months before he graduated. A year later he was assigned to Egypt's Northern Sinai Peninsula, a gateway into the Gaza Strip. He was a member of a quick reaction force whose job was to provide personal security detail, convoy security, route recon and any other potential security issues. Julia was assigned to the unit as a visual deterrent and to alert the soldiers of the unknown.

"We took her everywhere we went," Strange said. "Her presence would keep people from walking up on us. At night she would see things we couldn't see and would bark. If my team wasn't on shift, she would go with the other team, but a majority of the time she slept on my bed."

Strange was Julia's first handler, and he developed a deep bond with her during the nine months he served in Egypt. When his tour was nearing completion, he said he was heartbroken when he was told that he could not adopt Julia and bring her home. Strange continued to think about bringing Julia to the United States until a friend who was redeployed to Kuwait met a staff sergeant who informed him the Army was letting servicemen adopt some of these dogs.

"He sent me a message and asked if I was still interested in adopting Julia, and I said 'of course,'" Strange said. "The veterinarian who was over Julia's care did a background check to see if we were a good home. Then I got in touch with the SPCA organization Operation Baghdad Pups."

Operation Baghdad Pups is a Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals program founded in 2008 to rescue and reunite these pets with service members in the U.S. Organizers have rescued over 550 animals from multiple countries in the Middle East, Asia and Africa and have expanded to become "OBP: Worldwide" and rescue animals anywhere in the world for members of all military branches.

"We received Sgt. Strange's request, and hearing he made Julia a promise when he left (the) country that if there was ever a way for him to get her back that he would do it moved us deeply," said SPCA International Executive Director Meredith Ayan in a written statement. "He said he would not allow her to live out the rest of her days in the desert, and we were thrilled to help this family reunite. We understand the bond people make with animals, and being able to help our military servicemen and women rescue and reunite with the ones that helped them through difficult times is one of the most important things we do."

Strange said Operation Baghdad Pups representatives arranged for him to travel back to Egypt to bring Julia home June 3. He said it was a wonderful reunion thanks to a wonderful organization.

"I can't stress enough how incredible Baghdad Pups was," Strange said. "They arranged everything and even paid for my plane ticket. Words can't express how grateful I am. … When I went to pick her up, I met them at the gym on base. As they were walking up I called her name, and her ears perked up. When they let her go she kind of looked at me sideways like she was sizing me up, but then she trotted up and gave me a lick on the face."

Strange said Julia is adjusting to living in the States. He said she still has some reactionary issues, such as seeing someone with a grass trimmer in his hands as a threat, but he said she has enjoyed discovering grass. Strange said he plans on volunteering with Operation Baghdad Pups in the future because it is important to remember four-legged veterans.

"As a nation we tend to forget that we still have animals that are in the military who are working every day," Strange said. "She is still a soldier, but her mission now is just to be my best friend. It is my turn to look out for her."'

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