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Iraq war veteran 'Fluffy' comes to America

Special Forces handler adopting dog who joined unit

Sgt. Russell Joyce and Fluffy are reunited at Charleston Air Force Base.
Sgt. Russell Joyce and Fluffy are reunited at Charleston Air Force Base.

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CHARLESTON AFB, South Carolina (CNN) -- An Iraq-born dog who during the war leapt to the side of the U.S. military arrived Sunday in his adoptive country with a new leash on life.

Fluffy, the hungry and abused German shepherd who became a U.S. comrade, was flown from Iraq to Germany and then to Charleston Air Force Base, where he was reunited with Sgt. Russell Joyce, his former handler.

Showing no jet lag and appearing unfazed by the cameras and media scrutiny, Fluffy walked down the steps from the C-130 and, tail wagging, leapt into Joyce's arms.

Fluffy's journey began when a U.S. Army Special Forces team that had used dogs as sentries in Afghanistan requested similar help in northern Iraq from Joyce, who was in charge of ordering supplies for the 12-man unit.

"I asked the Kurdish peshmerga if we could have a dog, and they brought us Fluffy," said Joyce, standing on the tarmac as he awaited the dog's arrival.

Actually, they brought him Tariq Aziz, named after Iraq's deputy prime minister, but the name didn't last. "Tariq Aziz was such a long name," Joyce said. "I was joking around and said, 'You know what, I'm calling him Fluffy.'"

Soon, so was everyone else.

"It rolls off your tongue pretty easy, and he responded to it."

The dog's original name, Tariq Aziz, was dropped in favor of the equally un-German-shepherdish
The dog's original name, Tariq Aziz, was dropped in favor of the equally un-German-shepherdish "Fluffy."

Not only did the dog's name change, but so did his fortunes. "He was a little light, pretty thin, and he had some scars on him," Joyce recalled.

"Everybody chipped in and took care of him, and got him back to health. In about two weeks, he was pretty spunky and really out there moving."

Fluffy returned the favor, adding to the unit's sense of security, Joyce said. "Having a person on roving patrol is a great thing, but adding the sense of smell and the sense of a hearing that a dog has -- that we do not have -- really heightened the sense of awareness to early detection."

When the unit concluded its work in Iraq and returned to its base at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, Fluffy was left in Iraq -- military policies prevent the return of unauthorized "items" to the United States.

Fluffy's fate was uncertain for a while, and Joyce was told the dog could be kept by military personnel in Iraq, but only for a short time, a Pentagon official said.

After the serviceman returned home May 11, Joyce sent e-mails about his attempts to get the dog to the United States, and the story was told on a Web site dedicated to war dogs.

Joyce: "We definitely went through a lot over there together."

"He means a lot to me; we definitely went through a lot over there together," Joyce said.

The e-mails hit a chord. "We received so much support from so many different ... Americans," Joyce said. "When it reached the Pentagon and congressional level, we again received more support," he said, citing Sens. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina.

Because Special Forces units do not require dogs, Fluffy will be deemed "military surplus" and offered up for adoption, an official at Fort Bragg said. Fluffy is technically U.S. government property because he was trained by military personnel.

Once the proper paperwork is complete, he will be officially up for adoption. A law passed by Congress in November 2000 allows retired military working dogs to be adopted by their handlers or by law enforcement agencies.

But Joyce said there was no question about who would be the adoptive father. "Fluffy's going into retirement as soon as he gets here; I'm adopting him," he said a few minutes before the dog's plane touched down.

First stop: a veterinarian.

Joyce predicted his charge would not suffer culture shock. "It'll be new to him, but every time we moved somewhere and he went with us, he always seemed to respond pretty well to new surroundings."

-- CNN Pentagon producer Mike Mount contributed to this report.

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