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VFW Magazine October 2017 : Page 29

PHOTO COURTESY OF DEBRA DAVIS LEFT: Smoke the Donkey became something of a celebrity as VFW life member John Folsom worked to get his wartime pal from Iraq to the United States. RIGHT: VFW life member John Folsom reunites with Smoke the Donkey in 2011. Folsom was the primary caretaker for Smoke while serving at Camp al Taqaddum near Fallujah, Iraq, from 2008 to 2009. who served in Iraq from July 2008 to February 2009 and is a VFW member with the Department of Nebraska. BRINGING SMOKE HOME Before Folsom left Iraq, he said he was “assured” that the relieving Marine Corps unit, the 2nd Marine Logistics Group, would take care of Smoke. But he had contacted the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) International while exploring options. The subsequent Army unit, however, “had no desire” to take care of Smoke, according to Folsom. It was then, in September 2010, that Folsom said he discovered Smoke had been given to a sheik and was “turned loose,” left to fend for himself in a “bar-ren part of Iraq.” It was time to see if he could bring Smoke home. A string of correspondence, initiated by Lisa Roskens, of Take Flight Farms in Omaha, Neb., led to Folsom obtaining contact information for the sheik. Once connecting with the sheik, Folsom discovered that he had given Smoke to a farming family. In Smoke the Donkey: A Marine’s Unlikely Friend , Cate Folsom, Folsom’s wife, wrote: “After that, [the sheik] claimed, word had spread about this special donkey who would eat cigarettes and do tricks. “Children loved him, the sheik said, and people had flocked to see him. So, obviously, the family was reluctant… to give up the donkey without compensa-tion. Specifically: they wanted $30,000.” Through negotiations, the sheik even-tually agreed to return Smoke to Folsom at no cost. By January 2011, Folsom reconnect-ed with SPCA International. Stephanie Scott, director of marketing and commu-nications for SPCA International, said it was “certainly” a surprise when Folsom contacted the organization for assistance in bringing Smoke to the U.S. “[It became] clear to all of us, this was no ordinary donkey and that he had really made an impact on this group of Marines,” Scott said. Scott said SPCA International has helped reunite more than 700 dogs and cats with their wartime counterparts — but no rescue had “been anywhere as close to as complicated” as Smoke’s. Donkeys, for example, don’t have “air-line-approved crates,” she said. “When we worked on Smoke’s res-cue, every lesson that we had learned was basically out the window because we could not follow any of our normal routes in transportation options,” Scott said. The whole process took until May 12, 2011, Folsom said, and involved multiple organizations and countries. FACEBOOK TO THE RESCUE A key challenge SPCA International faced in helping Smoke was the lack of value placed on animals in the Middle East, according to Scott. “[Donkeys] are overworked and under cared for,” Scott said. “So, as we were traveling with Smoke around Iraq, we were met with confusion and shock.” Once Smoke was “found and cap-tured,” Folsom said, the therapy animal was taken to Erbil, in northern Iraq, to connect with SPCA International repre-sentatives. It was decided, according to Folsom, that “the easiest way to get him to [the U.S.] was to get him to Istanbul.” “Getting him across the border was an arduous task,” Folsom said. “There were prohibitions against bringing equine from Iraq into Turkey.” Cate, also the metro-regional editor at the Omaha World-Herald , said that when the Iraq War started, “country-to-coun-try communications and regulations just kind of broke down.” “Iraq was not in a position to monitor the health of its livestock,” Cate added. That resulted in other countries block-ing animals from crossing Iraq’s border to prevent potential infections in healthy livestock, according to Cate. Smoke the Donkey loved frozen bagels. Smoke earned his namesake not only because of the color of his fur, but because of his penchant for stealing cigarettes. OCTOBER 2017   • WWW.VFW.ORG • 29

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