I am Colonel John Folsom, USMCR (retired), and the President and Founder of Wounded Warriors Family Support. This is the unusual story of a donkey who brought comfort and friendship to many service men and women deployed in Iraq.
In 2008 I took an assignment as the camp commandant of Camp al Taqaddum in Iraq. (map) My job was a little like being mayor of the camp which was 24 square miles of dusty desert. One Sunday morning I awoke to loud “hee-haws” just outside my quarters. Upon investigation, I learned that a donkey had wandered onto our camp looking for food. Sergeant Juan Garcia had corralled him and wanted to know what to do with our uninvited guest.
The donkey was thin and had multiple scratches on his legs, probably from climbing through the barbed wire around the camp. He had a light grey coat the color of smoke from a campfire and later on we would use this characteristic to give him a name.
My first priority was to find our visitor some food. Donkeys usually eat fresh hay but, not having any hay available, we fed Smoke granola bars. Eventually we were able to secure a supply of hay but there were times when it was in short supply and so Smoke learned to enjoy a variety of camp foods. Frozen bagels were one of his favorites.
In Iraq the summers are very hot and dry and there was little food around for a wild donkey to live on. I worried that if I turned Smoke out of the camp that he wouldn’t make it for long in the desert where it can reach 120 degrees during the day with blinding dust storms. Some of the Marines built a corral and stable for Smoke to protect him from the weather.
Smoke soon became a part of our everyday lives at Camp al Taqaddum. He took daily walks and would look for treats while visiting people in their offices. He provided a friend to men and women far from home and gave them a story to tell their children. It’s difficult to relate the day to day life of active duty military serving in the Middle East to boys and girls living in the United States, but Smoke was able to bridge that gap. He provided a little diversion from difficult and dangerous work and, in his simple way, gave relief to everyone he touched.
After returning home in 2009 I worried that eventually Smoke would end up wandering around the desert with no one to look after him. I decided then that I would find him and bring him back to the United States. It was the least I could do for my friend who had asked for so little but given so much.
Smoke took a long and laborious journey through Turkey and Germany finally ending up in New York in 2011. He now lives on a farm in Nebraska with horses that are trained as therapy animals. At Wounded Warriors Family Support, we are working on building Smoke and his friends their own stable at a retreat center. There, the families of our service members who have been injured or killed in Iraq or Afghanistan can benefit from the unconditional love of Smoke or other animals like him.
Smoke isn’t an extraordinary donkey. He’s just a regular critter who allows himself to be used in an extraordinary way. He’s kind and loving and willing to open his heart to those who need him. In this same way, your dimes can be used to do extraordinary things at Wounded Warriors Family Support. We don’t need superheroes, just regular people who will open their hearts and help us further our (and Smoke’s!) mission one dime at a time.
Wounded Warriors Family Support appreciates your dimes but pennies, nickels, quarters, and even paper money is accepted. Thank you for your support of Donkey Dimes and thank you for helping to heal the families who have sacrificed so much for this country.
Article can be found at CBSnews.com
You may order a hardcover copy of Smoke the Donkey at smokethedonkey.com