When Army Specialist E-4 Jeremiah Smith of Fulton stepped off the bus on July 21 in Fort Leonard Wood after nearly a year in Iraq, he was met by his family, as well as a now-famous friend.
Niki, the black and white Iraqi refugee puppy, has been in the United States since April, a couple months after Smith and members of his Baghdad-stationed unit, the 2175th Military Police Co., befriended the mixed-breed dog. With the help of Military Mascots, Smith shipped Niki back to Fulton, via St. Louis.
Don Smith, Jeremiah’s father, said when his son returned, Niki recognized him right away.
“She just came up to him and acted like she knew him,” he said. “It’s because she spent the time over there with the guys in uniform, and she felt comfortable around them.”
Sitting around the dining room table of the Smith home, Don, Phyllis and Jeremiah Smith discussed the soldier’s homecoming and Niki’s growth. Don Smith said it’s good to finally have his son back from the conflict in Iraq. But when Jeremiah shipped Niki over to the United States, it felt like having a piece of his son at home.
Jeremiah Smith and nine other soldiers began taking care of her in November 2003, and Don Smith soon began contacting organizations in the United States to arrange Niki’s shipment. “We gave her the same food that we received: Vienna sausages and Spam,” Jeremiah Smith said.
But Don and Jeremiah Smith struggled to bring Niki to Fulton. They wrote to numerous organizations and people, including President Bush.
It was through Military Mascots, a nonprofit organization in Massachusetts, and donations from more than 38 people that they were able to bring her here. “It was amazing how many people donated,” Don Smith said.
According to Military Mascots, more than $2,500 was raised.
Since arriving in the United States, Niki’s diet has improved. She eats mainly dog food, but helps herself to the Mimosa tree in the Smith’s front yard.
“She can reach my peach trees, but she doesn’t eat them,” Don Smith said after explaining that she had reduced the three-foot Mimosa to a stub. “It started to grow again, but when it was about a foot, it was ate by the dog.”
The Smiths said no big plans have been made since Jeremiah has returned. He is looking forward to fishing, hunting and getting ready for school. Jeremiah Smith plans to attend Moberly Community College this fall to study wildlife biology. Otherwise, he’ll be relaxing and spending time with his family, including an on-going fishing and hunting competition with his father.
“He’s in the lead,” Jeremiah Smith said. “But, we will see what happens this season.”