View Full Version : Tough Marines melted in the presence of a pup named Lava

11-05-06, 10:56 AM
Posted on Sun, Nov. 05, 2006
Tough Marines melted in the presence of a pup named Lava

Bloomberg News

In 2004, Lt. Col. Jay Kopelman of the U.S. Marines fell in love with a whimpering, wide-eyed pup found by his men during the invasion of Fallujah. They named him Lava after their unit, the Lava Dogs.

"From Baghdad, With Love: A Marine, the War and a Dog Named Lava," by Kopelman and journalist Melinda Roth, chronicles the everyday horrors of life in a combat zone and the efforts to get Lava safely out of Iraq.

It's against the rules to feed or house animals, but no one had the heart to abandon Lava. The pooch, a mutt with a good dose of German shepherd, settled comfortably into Marine life: He ate military rations in pouches and slept in the men's helmets. He chewed on their boots and barked when he shouldn't; once, he barfed up toothpaste all over Kopelman's sleeping bag. Still, he made tough, grown men grow misty-eyed and determined to ensure his survival — and affirm their own humanity.

Kopelman, 46, who is about to retire from the Marines, lives in La Jolla, Calif., where Lava now enjoys walks on the beach.

How did you first meet Lava?

Kopelman: I was helping to lead a group of Iraqi soldiers into the battle of Fallujah, November 2004, when we entered the command post that was used by the First Battalion, Third Marines, to whom the Iraqi soldiers were attached. Lava, I guess, had been found by them a couple of days earlier and came flying across the floor at me. I was quite shocked to see this little puppy come barreling toward me in the middle of a combat zone. I did kind of jump back and grab my rifle momentarily.

Why did you "adopt" Lava when you knew it was against the rules?

Kopelman: The regulation is General Order 1A. Among other things, you are not allowed to keep wild or domestic animals as pets or mascots. You're not allowed to care for them; you're not allowed to feed them. It was just very important to everybody who knew Lava that he find a home somewhere safely in the United States. I just made it my mission as part of a promise to these Marines that I would get him back here.

How did you finally get him out of the country?

Kopelman: I got him to safety on the Marine Corps base outside the city of Fallujah. He lived there for a couple of months with a group of Marines, who then on one of their regular trips to Baghdad were able to drop him with Anne Garrels from NPR (National Public Radio). Annie had been imbedded with us in Fallujah, so she knew Lava already. Lava stayed in Baghdad for a couple of months while arrangements were made through a number of organizations and companies in the U.S.

Have you thought about why you all put so much effort into saving this puppy when so many people were dying every day in Iraq?

Kopelman: I write in the book that I may not have saved a person, but at least I saved something. When you come in from combat operations and there's a puppy there waiting for you, it gives you a sense of normalcy and a real feeling that everything's going to be OK. It makes you want not so much to get yourself home but to get the dog home. And it became, I think, a symbol for us all.

Catch us up on Lava's life today.

Kopelman: He's very happily living in La Jolla. He's got a wonderful life, living here with my wife and stepson and me, another dog and a cat. He's only two blocks from the beach.

(There is no organization working specifically to rescue abandoned animals in Iraq, but you can learn more about international efforts to support animal welfare at the World Society for the Protection of Animals, www.wspa-interna tional.org.)

Title: "From Baghdad, With Love"

Authors: Jay Kopelman and Melinda Roth

Publisher: Lyons Press