He served for nearly a year in Iraq and while his worked saved thousands of lives, he struggled to keep his morale up and his emotions in check.
In the high risk world of military service, the daily grind of working in war-torn areas can take its toll. For years, Army National Guard member Nick Pierzchalski flew Blackhawk helicopters and airlifted wounded soldiers to safety.
Fortunately, comfort would come to Nick from the most unexpected place.
One day, a stray puppy just ran up to Nick. “This dog ran up to me, ran up to our group, and befriended us immediately,” Nick recalled of the pup, which he named Airys. The dog apparently had no family in the war zone, and Nick and his fellow soldiers excitedly prepared a home for their newfound friend. They built Airys a kennel in the hangar and took great care of her. The dog became a constant and steady companion. ”It brought great morale to me and the whole group felt like a piece of home,” Nick added.
While Airys depended on Nick for her food and shelter, Nick leaned on her as well. She lifted his spirits and became a beacon of hope during incredibly dark and often dire circumstances.
The friendship with Airys meant everything to Nick and they were practically inseparable. When his tour of duty was over, he was devastated at the thought of leaving Airys behind. He was determined to bring her to his home in Florida. He wanted to make sure that the dog that had given him so much would stay safe and live a more comfortable life.
After months of separation, Airys soon made her way to the U.S. with the help of SPCA International and Operation Baghdad Pups. The first Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) was organized in England in 1824, primarily to prevent the abuse of carriage horses in the days before automobiles. SPCA International was founded in the U.S. in 2006. The organization aims to advance the safety and well-being of animals by developing and utilizing a worldwide platform that supports independent animal shelters and promotes animal safety.
Operation Baghdad Pups is one of SPCA International’s major initiatives, and was established at the request of U.S. military personnel serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. The program provides veterinary care, clearance, and transport for the animals that U.S. service members have bonded with during deployment in the Middle East.
Operation Baghdad Pups not only saves the lives of animals, it also comforts and brings peace of mind to U.S. soldiers serving overseas and helps them cope when they return home. The organization has since supported the transport of hundreds of animals out of war zones and continues to receive around three to four new requests every week.
The reunion between the two friends was so momentous that it was covered by a local news station. Nick was concerned as the news station wanted to broadcast the event on live television and he was afraid that Airys would not recognize him. Waiting anxiously at Tampa International Airport, it turned out that Nick had nothing to worry about.
As Airys left her cage, she ran to Nick amid small whines of happiness. The dog was so excited and joyfully buried her face in Nick’s arms. Nick was ecstatic! “I can’t even put it in words, I really can’t. I didn’t think I was going to get her home. She remembers! I was nervous she wasn’t going to remember but she obviously does.”
“You’re a lot bigger,” Nick marveled at Airys while she enthusiastically wagged her tail. She’ll soon be settled in Nick’s home in Brooksville, which is known for historical structures that date back to the 1800s, peaceful tree-lined neighborhoods, gorgeous family-friendly recreational parks, biking and walking trails, museums, and unique local shops. Her new home is certainly a world away from where their friendship started in a military base in Iraq.
Watch the touching reunion between Nick and the dog he took care of while on tour of duty via Fox 13: