Marjah’s Story

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Welcome to Marjah’s Tripawds page. I hope you enjoy reading and checking back for updates as much as we enjoy posting here.

Marjah was a very special, unplanned addition to our existing pack of three Chihuahua-type doggies. As you’ll soon understand, we have a pretty special bond.

While I was on active duty in the Marine Corps, I was lucky enough to be chosen for a special temporary assignment to work at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. Because of the nature of the assignment and my enthusiasm for it, I left everything here at home in North Carolina and went on up there looking forward to the next three months. I left behind my beautiful fiancee, two awesome kids, and their three dogs (including Annabelle, a Chihuahua/terrier mix who was expecting her first litter).

A little over a month into it, I was working like a maniac, putting in long hours without question and making work a priority. Every day, I visited with many young Marines and sailors who had been severely wounded in Afghanistan and just returned home. Most were amputees, sometimes missing two or even three limbs in addition to other serious injuries. I checked on their families daily as well, doing whatever I could to make sure they were taken care of. As a team, everyone on the staff as well as the other Marines working with me would move heaven and earth on a daily basis to give those young men peace of mind that they would recover, their families would be cared for, and their wounds and injuries were only the beginning of a new chapter in their lives. My own family was somewhere there in the back of my mind, and things were mostly a blur day to day.

That all changed for a few moments one Tuesday in December, 2010. One of the Marines in ICU at the time had been unconscious since he was wounded two weeks or so before, losing both his legs in an explosion. Things did not look well, and with his wife and parents at his bedside the doctors had done all they could. It’s very rare to lose someone who has made it that far, but the staff and Marines at Bethesda had reluctantly prepared the family for the worst.

I had been on duty all night and slept fitfully on the office couch for an hour or two, ignoring the beeps from my own phone and trying in vain to get some rest before getting up and preparing to do it all over again. Just as I finished shaving, checked my uniform, and went looking for coffee, one of the other Marines walked into the office. The look on his face said it all.

“We lost him.”

Even when you know it’s coming, you hate to hear news like that. No words, just a sigh as my shoulders drooped a bit. I stepped out for a quick cigarette and checked my phone just for something to keep my mind otherwise occupied. Text messages from home. Pictures. We had puppies now. Annabelle had started her labor around 2am, and the first puppy had come just about 20 minutes before. I looked at the picture, and the message: “This is the first one – it’s missing a leg! And no, Annabelle did NOT do that – it’s just how it was born.”

For weeks, I sort of pigeonholed the thoughts and emotions that went through my mind just then. We had all done our best to take care of that Marine’s family while the doctors did their best to literally save his life. When that battle was lost and his life ended, another life began. That meant… well, something, though I wasn’t sure what. I was sure that nobody else would really understand, and that it wasn’t something to bring up right then and there. I just left it and went back to work.

When I did finally return home, I met our little tripawd for the first time. I wasn’t back for even 24 hours and I knew that there would be one from this litter that wasn’t going anywhere. After spending some time together, we hit it off pretty well. I didn’t want to go anywhere without her for a day or two. By then, her stump had developed as fully as it ever would. There was no more yelping or tenderness when she tried to use it as a normal leg, and she was just used to it. She’d play with he other puppies and fight back a bit harder when they’d give her a cheap shot on her good leg, but she could run around and chase another dog with the best of them.

In a moment of inapproriate Marine humor, I decided to name her Marjah. It’s a beautiful name for a girl, and it also happens to be the name of one of two villages in Afghanistan (the other being Sangin, which is a crappy name for a girl) where a Marine infantry battalion lost several killed and wounded during my time at Bethesda. Most wouldn’t pick up on that unless they’d been there, and it’s sort of my own secret tribute to the men of that unit and a way to remember their valor, service and sacrifice in those dirty little towns.

Anyway, that’s the ‘short’ version of Marjah’s story. She’s the first “special” dog I’ve ever had, but I somehow doubt she’ll be the last.