We first told you in July about returning soldiers trying to adopt the strays they rescued in Afghanistan. Since then, the Iowans efforts have gone from mission impossible to nearly mission complete.
Today, Freedom, Liberty and Charlie stepped foot in Iowa for the first time. They are part of Delta and Company. That's the name the Iowa soldiers gave the stray dog and her seven puppies after finding them on their base in Afghanistan. American Airlines flew the trio from Afghanistan to New York this week.
"These guys appreciate the love that you give them like more so than any dog because they've never had it," says Spc. Sheila Schaffer as Charlie sits on her lap.
Schaffer's unit protected Delta and Company. She says U.S. soldiers have standing orders to shoot stray cats and dogs on base, but that was one order she and her battle buddies couldn`t follow.
"In a combat zone, it feels like I'm closer to the dog than friendship and family because we were out there together," says Spc. Penny Herold.
Herold is adopting Liberty. Upon their return home, the soldiers went to work raising money for a cause they know few can understand.
"I could sit here and talk to people until I'm blue in the face and they still would have no idea what I'm talking about. They wouldn't understand the feelings or anything it would have to be an experience to live through to understand," she says.
Sgt. Adam Riniker says seeing Freedom for the first time in five months takes him back to the war.
"I can see myself doing tower guard right before dark. Not too many people can say they have an animal that was in the same environment that they were overseas and I think that's the huge difference between adopting a dog over there or here," says Riniker.
Freedom isn`t free. These dogs cost $4,000. The money was donated by family, friends, and strangers. The soldiers expect their expensive mutts will have an easier time adjusting than they did.
"I don't think she knows how lucky she is, but once we get home, she gets a bath and her nails trimmed and gets on the couch, I think she'll start to realize how lucky she has it," says Riniker.
One by one, the Iowa soldiers are welcoming the dogs they bonded with at war. But their mission isn't complete until all of Delta and Company returns.
"We have two more puppies left in Afghanistan and that's the day I will feel relief, knowing that I didn't leave them behind and I kept my promise," says Schaffer.
Nowzad Dogs is caring for the two members of delta and company that remain there. You can find a link to the charity that rescues stray and abandoned animals in Iraq and Afghanistan at www.nowzad.com.