I loved this book! I saw it in my local library when I went there to get a novel for a book club. I haven’t read many military books, but how could anyone resist this cover! (BTW: since it’s a dog book, sister Sofia poses with it, and I love how she looks all serious and at-attention :))
CRAIG & FRED is the true story of a Marine – and Purple Heart recipient, Craig – who became very attached to a stray during his service in Afghanistan and managed to adopt the dog, Fred, and transport him back to his home in Virginia. You know the story has a happy ending because of all the pictures of Fred happy in the U.S. but it’s still riveting watching how it all unfolds.
Craig meets Fred when he finds him rummaging through garbage on the compound the troop has set up in Sangin, Afghanistan. Despite the dog’s being hungry and homeless in a country devastated by war and the murderous land mines the Taliban has hidden all throughout the desert, Fred is trusting and sociable instead of scared and defensive, as one might expect. Fred is taken in by the troop, and he immediately becomes best buds with Craig, though he is liked by pretty much everyone. He likes being around the guys so much, he sometimes follows them out on their missions, which can be a problem. At one point, the troop is scouting the desert in the middle of the night – they go out during the darkest hours so as not to be spotted by Taliban – when Fred sees some movement. He barks, and the men discover there are two people out planting mines. Fortunately, Fred’s barking does not alert Taliban and put the men in danger, but Fred is now deemed too risky and is kept at the compound. Oftentimes dogs who become too much of a risk are, horribly, euthanized by the military. So that is always a fear Craig carries with him while Fred is still in Afghanistan. This, combined with the fact that dogs are not allowed at Leatherneck, a base Craig stays at between deployments, provides much of the conflict for the book. But Fred is so endearing to everyone that people either help Craig smuggle him in or pretend not to notice.
As I said, I don’t read many military books and I learned so much about what it’s like to live in a compound, defuse bombs, and be attacked. One late combat scene does not end without casualties and it is after Craig returns that he realizes he is suffering from PTSD from it. That’s when Fred really helps him. It’s hard for Craig to talk to anyone about what happened and Fred helps simply by being there. When people casually ask about his dog, Craig tells them he got Fred in Afghanistan, and that opens into a conversation about his military service. I never realized how hard it is for veterans to talk about their experiences once they’re back home. I’ve had culture shock after returning home from study abroad and after reading this book I realized their experience is that times about 1000. By the way, the end of the book contains memorials to the fallen men, which I thought was wonderful.
Part of the book is also about a road journey across the U.S. that Craig and Fred take with Craig’s friend, Josh, also a veteran. I loved this part of the book as well because it’s kind of a journey of self discovery in that Craig has to figure out what he wants to do with his life now that he’s finished with combat and unsure whether a desk job will suit him. In his own way Fred is influential in that as well.
An excellent story – and you will fall in love with Craig and Fred, even if you’re a cat 🙂 Witty Kitty gives this one five bonito flakes!