A Veteran Shares How a Stray Dog Changed His Life

Former Marine Craig Grossi shares how he met Fred, the "funny little dog" who provided him with the love and support he needed in his return to civilian life after serving in Afghanistan.

Read Craig's inspiring story from the November 2017 issue of Guideposts!

Hey, I'm Craig Grossi. I was in the Marine Corps for eight years, and back in 2010 I was in Helman Province, Afghanistan, in a place called Sangin. I was attached to a team of recon Marines; I was an intelligence guy. And we went into Sangin, not really knowing what to expect; we'd known that the area has seen a lot of fighting and unfortunately a lot of casualties, so we were expecting the worst.

What I wasn't expecting was that I would meet my first dog there and that I would make a friend for life, and that's this guy right over here with the four legs and the fuzzy face. 

His name is Fred, and I found him just kind of wandering around. Most of the dogs we saw ran in packs and they were really kind of nasty and unapproachable and you couldn't really blame them for being that way, but for some reason, Fred resisted that and he really stood out to me and the rest of the guys I was with.

The morning that I first made contact with him—I walked over towards him, he was in a little clump of bushes, and I could see he had sort of stashed some food and some trash kind of nearby. I had a piece of beef jerky and I just wanted to kind of go and see what was up with this dog. As I approached him, I could see right away that he was wagging his tail, and that just kind of stopped me right in my tracks because he had absolutely nothing to wag his tail at. He was hot and hungry and covered in these big, black bugs that were burrowing into his hide, and he had never been treated well by any people before, from what I could tell.

So I got a little closer and I knelt down and I stuck out the jerky with my hand, and he took just as gently as he possibly could with his front teeth. And that was the next thing that just kind of floored me about this dog was because here he was, as hungry as he was, with manners that just defied his situation.

So I pushed it a little further and I stuck my hand out and let him sniff me a little bit and then I started giving him some rubs behind the ears and he put his weight into my hand, and I could really feel a real connection with this funny little dog.

But I didn't want to push it, because we weren't supposed to approach dogs—it was against the rules—so I stood up and I started walking back to where I had my gear staged. I got a couple of feet from Fred and I looked down—I could feel this poke at my heel and I looked down and there he is, and he's looking up at me, like "Where are we going?", like "What's next?"

Meanwhile, one of my friends is watching from across the compound, and he calls out, "Hey, looks like you made a friend!" But I hear was, "Hey, looks like a Fred!" And the name has stuck ever since. 

I ended up smuggling him out of Sangin, sneaking him around and hiding him from people and ended up just shipping him home to my family here in Virginia. About three months later, I came home and he was waiting for me, and we've just been on this incredible journey ever since then.

[speaks to Fred] Oh, you've got stick breath!

Fred and I have always had a really special bond, but over time, we've just kind of been working with each other and working to better one another. For Fred, when he first came home, it was just adjusting to life in our country and getting used to what it was like to not have to worry about food and to interact with other dogs in a social way. It didn't take him too long because he's a really sweet dog and once he figured out that he was going to get fed every night and he had a great place to sleep and a good life, you know, he just kind of let go of Afghanistan and who he was before that.

And for me, it's been kind of a longer struggle. I think getting out of the military was the right decision for me, but it wasn't the easy one. I've been kind of searching ever since then, just for my place and my role in the world now. I loved being a Marine and I was pretty good at it, but you know, when it was time to go, it was time to go, and now it's been a struggle just to find what I'm supposed to do, and I'm proud to say that Fred's been a big part of that for me.As it turns out, his story—and our story—is what I'm supposed to do, is what we're supposed to do, and I'm really honored and proud to be able to share it, as much and in as many different ways as I possibly can. 

I don't think that it was an accident that Fred and I found each other. The more time I spend writing and the more time I spend thinking and telling our story, the clearer it becomes to me that Fred was meant for me and I was meant for him. He was just a special little being in a really harsh evironment, and the lessons that he's taught me and the lessons that we now get to share with anyone that will listen are not an accident.

To me, the overarching message of Fred and of our story is just one of stubborn positivity—just what it means to understand that it's not what happens to you, but how you react that matters. That's what Fred has shown me, and that's what I hope to share with people. Because we all have challenges in our lives that we can let drag us down, but if we know how to react to them and how to respond to them, we can rise above. And Fred has done that for me, and I'm really proud to be able to share our story with everyone.

So the book is called Craig & Fred: A Marine, a Stray Dog and How They Rescued Each Other. And hey, I forgot to mention, if you want to follow along with Fred's and my adventures, all you have to do is search "Fred the Afghan" on Instagram or Facebook, or you can just go to FredtheAfghan.com. We post a lot of fun pictures of everywhere we travel and all the fun stuff we do together.

All right, everyone—thank you so much for your support. We really look forward to continuing to share our story with everyone, and thanks again—we'll see you soon.

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