Pfc. Hammer Finds a Home
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Apr. 24, 2004 A tiger-striped Iraqi kitten that wiggled its way into the hearts of a U.S. Army unit has made its way to the United States, thanks to a host of volunteers and two animal welfare groups.
Pfc. Hammer, an Iraq-born cat that befriended soldiers of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division, during their deployment in Iraq, arrives in San Francisco, Calif., enroute to his new home in Colorado. Courtesy photo
(Click photo for screen-resolution image)
Soldiers with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division, dubbed the tiny ball of fur that wandered into their tent early last fall "Pfc. Hammer."
"He was born at the site," said Staff Sgt. Rick Bousfield. "There were two other kittens in the litter, but they ran away. He stayed and kept mice out of our living quarters and out of our dining facility."
Adopted by the troops, the young cat provided warmth and companionship in an otherwise hostile environment. When the unit was attacked by mortar fire, Hammer ran to the bunkers, where the nearest soldier scooped him inside his body armor to wait out the attack.
"He was like our stress therapist over there," Bousfield recalled. "You'd come in off raids where we'd been kicking in doors and guys would be sitting outside by themselves. He'd come over and take their minds off the war."
When Bousfield learned the unit was leaving Iraq to return to Fort Carson, Colo., he sent an e-mail asking for help to Alley Cat Allies, a national nonprofit clearinghouse for information on feral and stray cats, in Washington, D.C. The sergeant said he wanted to ensure his whole unit came home together, and that included Pfc. Hammer.
Hammer "has been quite a morale booster for us, because we consider him one of our troops," Bousfield wrote. "If there was a way that ACA could help get Hammer back to the States, it would be a wonderful boost for the men to see the cat who has won their hearts free like the Iraqi people."
Bousfield's plea "brought the war home for us," said ACA national director Becky Robinson. "This was a soldier in Iraq writing us. How could we say no to a soldier in Iraq fighting for freedom?"
"His e-mail was so moving we felt like we couldn't say no," she said. "We had never done anything like this, but the moment we finished reading it, it was a given that we were going to figure out how to do this."
Hundreds of people sent e-mails and made donations to help get the cat to the States after ACA posted Hammer's plight on on the organization's web site, said Lynne Cummings, ACA director of gift planning.
"Alley Cat Allies doesn't usually get asked to do things in wartime," she said. "It was a really nice thing for us to be able to do to show our support to Rick and his unit. We didn't really care if we raised any money to help defray the costs."
ACA joined forces with Military Mascots, a grassroots all-volunteer effort dedicated to helping U.S. deployed service members who have befriended a canine mascot on foreign soil. Supporters' donations, combined with money from ACA's Compassion Fund, paid for Hammer's medical and travel expenses, Cummings said.
Working with a veterinary hospital in Kuwait, they arranged an international flight for Hammer. Prior to leaving the region, the cat was neutered and given a clean bill of health.
Bousfield returned from Iraq in early April. It took a week or so longer for Pfc. Hammer.
An ACA volunteer met up with Hammer when he arrived in San Francisco and accompanied the cat on a domestic flight to his new home outside of Denver. Bousfield and his daughter Tiffany, 15, along with another company member, Sgt. Robert Scott, were waiting for Hammer when he arrived at Denver International Airport.
The ACA volunteer who accompanied the cat said he started purring and kneading her arm as soon as he heard Bousfield's voice. The wartime bond formed thousands of miles away had not been forgotten.
Back at Fort Carson, Bousfield reunited Hammer with his former cohorts. "We all met at the same time to sign out on block leave so I took him in on his leash," Bousfield said. "They were happy to see him."
Hammer now lives with Bousfield's family and five other cats. Bousfield said they all get along now that they've gotten "the pecking order straight."
"We kept him in a room by himself for a week," he said. "Little by little we let him out. He roams around all he wants to now. He runs around. He's fast. The vet says he's an Egyptian Mau."