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From Baghdad, With Love: A Marine, the War, and a Dog Named Lava

Review

From Baghdad, With Love: A Marine, the War, and a Dog Named Lava

When
Lieutenant Colonel Jay Kopelman walks down the hallway of a
compound housing U.S. Marines in Fallujah, Iraq, he's startled by a
noise. He shouts and raises his gun, his nerves still on edge from
having just patrolled the dangerous streets of a city in the grip
of violence. His adversary? A five-week-old stray puppy. "There's
fear in his eyes despite the bravado," writes Kopelman in FROM
BAGHDAD, WITH LOVE. "He's only a puppy, too young to know how to
mask it, so I can see how bravery and terror trap him on all sides
while testosterone and adrenaline compete in the meantime for every
ounce of his attention. Recognize it right away."

The "little outlaw" has been named Lava in a nod to the nickname of
his rescuers' regiment --- the 1st battalion, 3rd Marines,
otherwise known as the Lava Dogs. In a breach of military policy,
the Lava Dogs have been secretly caring for the tiny canine. "The
newest grunt" has been "de-flead with kerosene, de-wormed with
chewing tobacco, and pumped full of MREs [Meals Ready to
Eat]."

Although the soldiers enjoy Lava's energetic company and take
comfort in the routine of caring for him, Kopelman included, they
avoid talking about what will become of the puppy when they move
on. And then something happens. Perhaps it's when Lava falls asleep
head first in Kopelman's boots. Or maybe it's the morning he wakes
up to find Lava curled in a ball at the bottom of his sleeping bag.
"Once I decide to save Lava," Kopelman says, "it becomes an
unprogrammable mission I don't have the smarts to reassign or the
guts to walk away from."

What begins is Kopelman's five-month effort to get Lava out of Iraq
and into the United States, no small feat in a war-torn country
where red tape runs deep and the well-being of one dog is of little
consequence except to the few who have come to care for the "cute
but fairly drastic breach of military law." What is truly
remarkable is that even after Kopelman leaves Iraq, the wheels keep
turning to get Lava out of the country, thanks to a group of people
determined to complete the mission.

Along with Kopelman's first-person account, in which he conveys the
harsh realities of life in Iraq, are the stories of those who
worked to help him bring Lava home. There is Sergeant Matt Hammond,
a Marine recovering from life-threatening wounds who looked after
Lava when Kopelman was transferred to another base, and who later
arranged a special convoy to take the pup to Baghdad; Anne Garrels,
an NPR journalist who sheltered Lava in Baghdad's dangerous Red
Zone; "Sam," an Iraqi who risked his life obtaining vaccination
papers (and dog biscuits) for Lava; and John Van Zante, director of
public relations at the Helen Woodward Animal Center in California,
who wonders "what the heck possessed a three-tour, tough-guy Marine
to try to save a little puppy in the middle of a war."

Indeed, with death and destruction rampant in Iraq, why should the
fate of a single puppy be of much importance? In the pages of FROM
BAGHDAD, WITH LOVE, Lieutenant Colonel Jay Kopelman shares his and
Lava's remarkable story --- one that is heartwarming and
heartbreaking, inspiring and candid. Kopelman explains how and why,
in the midst of war, he forged a life-altering friendship with "a
mangy little mutt."

Reviewed by Shannon McKenna on January 22, 2011

From Baghdad, With Love: A Marine, the War, and a Dog Named Lava
by Lieutenant Colonel Jay Kopelman

  • Publication Date: October 5, 2006
  • Genres: Memoir, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 216 pages
  • Publisher: The Lyons Press
  • ISBN-10: 1592289800
  • ISBN-13: 9781592289806