'Miracles happen': Soldier reunites with stray dog she adopted in Iraq
By RICHARD TRIBOU | Orlando Sentinel (Tribune News Service) | Published: May 21, 2018
Military reunion videos tug at the heartstrings, even more so when that reunion involves a dog.
Throw in the fact that the dog was actually a rescue that a deployed soldier in Iraq managed to get back to Florida, and even the steeliest of dark hearts would be hard pressed to survive the sight of the tail-wagging, face-licking joy of one obviously happy canine. The soldier was pretty happy as well.
That's the case with a video of U.S. Army Reserve Sgt. Tracy McKithern, who took in a puppy that was wandering the streets near a base in northern Iraq in 2017 and through a lot of help managed to have that puppy make its way to Florida.
McKithern, a combat photographer with the 982nd Combat Camera Co., was deployed to the Kurdistan Training Coordination Center near Irbil from April 2017 to January 2018, according to story by McKithern's friend and Army Sgt. Ken Scar on dvidshub.net.
McKithern encountered a mother and three puppies that started to hang around the base, starving and suffering from abuse by locals who don't treat stray dogs kindly, according to the story. The two sibling puppies disappeared, but mom and the puppy that eventually made it to Florida were taken in and cared for by the multinational force at the base.
As McKithern neared the end of her deployment, she recalled posting to Facebook an image of the puppy and herself "with a caption that read something like 'I wish I could take her home,'" McKithern said.
What happened next was a flood of messages suggesting rescue organizations that could help. One such organization, Puppy Rescue Mission, came through, working with McKithern and crowd-sourced fundraising to pay the thousands of dollars needed to get the puppy to the United States.
McKithern and her colleagues in Iraq named the puppy Erby Kasima. Erby is for the nearby city of Irbil (spelled Erbil by some) and Kasima is Arabic for "beauty and elegance."
Shipping Erby to the United States so the two could be reunited after McKithern's tour was over in January was a long process that began last November.
McKithern posted to her Facebook page about the day Erby arrived.
"Many tragic things happen in the world everyday. Some days it feels overwhelmingly sad and hopeless. But, every once and a while, miracles happen. Erby Kasima McKithern safely arrived at the Cargo area at the Tampa International Airport on May 12, 2018. An Iraqi veterinarian, a Peshmerga Officer, a German officer and an American enlisted soldier all worked together to put Erby in a crate November 11, 2017, to begin her long journey to her new home. Countless volunteers for a nonprofit organization named Puppy Rescue Mission helped Erby reach her new American home. Words will never come to her mom. Miracles do happen, hope is never truly lost. We may not be able to change the world, but we can change the world of another... forever."
While McKithern returned stateside earlier in 2018, she missed Erby's arrival until Thursday as she was deployed for a two-month stint to a base in Wisconsin.
The final reunion happened at Tampa International Airport with McKithern in her camouflage Army fatiques as her husband met her at the airport with Erby in tow (she arrives at around the 3:02 mark in this version of the video).
"I don't think Erby remembered me, but I am forever grateful to have her in my arms again," McKithern posted to Facebook.
The reunion video, though, certainly looks like the happiest of reunions.
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Erby the dog licks Sgt. Tracy McKithern, a combat photographer with the 982nd Combat Camera Co. in the Kurdistan Training Coordination Center, near Irbil, Iraq, in 2017.
TRACY MCKITHERN/U.S. ARMY