A War Dog's Faithful Friend
Thursday, October 20, 2005
Laurel lawyer John E. Smathers, a captain in the Army Reserve, returned from a year in Iraq with a broken arm, a wrecked knee and a chest full of medals.
During his tour, Smathers helped thwart a bank robbery and assisted in recovering stolen Iraqi artwork. He survived an ambush and a high-speed auto crash.
But when he got back in March 2004, he was determined to complete a final mission: to rescue Scout, a dog he and other soldiers had adopted, from the increasingly bloody streets of Baghdad and bring him to his Howard County home. Scout was resolute, loyal. So was Smathers.
For 17 months, Smathers engaged in a campaign that involved intelligence gathering, secret Iraqi contacts and a foiled border-crossing into Jordan.
Finally, in late August, Scout was driven some 280 miles from Baghdad to Basra, where he was delivered to a British woman who runs an animal shelter in Kuwait.
Within days, Scout was on the tarmac at Dulles International Airport, where he was met by Smathers, dressed in desert camouflage so the dog would recognize him. Scout scampered out of his cage and went straight to Smathers, resting at his feet.
For Smathers, it was a rewarding end to a difficult quest.
"It was frustrating. Every door I tried was getting slammed in my face," he said. "I just kept knocking. As long as Scout was alive, I'd keep trying."
Smathers, 47, was a member of the Riverdale-based 422nd Civil Affairs Battalion, attached to the 3rd Infantry Division. His unit was among the troopsthat invaded Iraq in 2003.
After U.S. forces took control of the Baghdad airport in early April, Smathers's unit needed a place to stay for a few days and settled on an old catering building. Inside, Smathers and his fellow soldiers encountered a Canaan dog about 2 1/2 months old.
"He was alone, confused, didn't know what was going on," Smathers recalled.
The unit adopted the puppy, which Capt. Kevin Guidry named Scout. When the unit left the airport for Baghdad, some 12 miles away, the soldiers took him along.