Posts Tagged With: Puppy Rescue Mission

The Jordanian Comes of Age

11218233_10206445599236191_6241923071895765755_oAs you may recall….

A year ago, the awesome Captain Cassie Wyllie rescued two pups from a military base in Jordan. With the help of the equally awesome folks at Puppy Rescue Mission, the two made it to the United States. One, Gwenie, reached Independence, Oregon where she has spent the last year eating furniture, getting us both covered in skunk stench, digging massive holes in the backyard, destroying the back fence and otherwise committing dog-atrocities while simultaneously fearing random things like naked cherub statues and most people. She goes absolutely berzerk when two high school lovers stop every day after school to canoodle on the sidewalk beside the house, so apparently she is not a Must Love Dogs fan.

When Gwen first came to Oregon, I could not get her to walk on a leash more than twenty or thirty feet from the house. Everything terrified her. She would venture a little ways out then freeze up. Looking sad and pathetic, she’d try to return to the front yard, growing increasingly frantic if I held firm on the leash.12027538_10206663754649940_7146249913541483235_n

Thanks to Ryder, Renee’s happy-go-lucky Aussie Shepherd, Gwenie gradually emerged from her shell. Her first Christmas was spent at the Oregon coast, where she explored on the beach with Ryder and the rest of the family. Since then, she has become a little more daring every day.

What we didn’t see was any happiness in her. She would explore and run around. She would come home to eat another section of the couch. She’d sleep beside me at night, but she always had such a lost and sad expression on the face that I wondered if she would ever know anything but degrees of less anxiety.


First beach trip about 5 weeks after Gwen arrived.

Today all that changed. I’ve been up in the woods working on the edits for Indestructible and I woke up this morning to snow. Snow is a big deal for me. Being from the Silicon Valley, I only experienced it a few times as a kid on ski trips. Renee and Ed have inherited the same exuberance for snow that I’ve got, so I gave the family a call and asked them to come up. Jenn stuffed two kids, one adult and three dogs into my Pontiac GTO and drove up here. Seriously, when they arrived, it looked like a Bruning clown car exploded. Dogs and kids running about joyfully, parents looking happily chagrined.


Today at Detroit Lake.

We walked around Detroit Lake and over to Piety Island (currently a peninsula) and I noticed that Gwen obeyed everything we told her. When she got too close to a cliff and we called out to her, she came back over to us. When she was hassling our little dog Mizette and we told her to stop, she did. Far from the unruly hurricane of chaos and mayhem we’ve come to know and love, she was playing within the rules today.

I started taking pictures, and right away I saw something different through the view finder. Gwen raced around us, letting Ryder chase her. She is fast and graceful and lithe, a beautiful sight to behold when she is in full stride.


Today, I swear she was smiling. Lit up, happiness radiating from her, she played and capered with all of us. She chased snowballs and jumped into a pond to wade around in search of driftwood to carry back ashore. This was a totally unexpected development, as she has always feared water. Today, she had no fear.G86A9675

As I took photos of her and the family, it dawned on me that she’s settled down. Whatever horrible things happened to her before she reached our loving arms no longer plague her. This is her home now; she has started to love it, and find comfort and tons of fun within the circle of her adopted family.G86A9655

Tonight she is with me at the cabin. The family went home at dusk. She’s exhausted and filled with warm chicken soup, which she convinced me to share with her by putting her chin on my lap as I ate. As I write, she’s curled up in front of the wood stove, eyes closed in peaceful repose.

My wild little pup has come of age.G86A9638

Now, if we can just get her to stop murdering innocent rolls of scotch tape and eating the kids’ home made Christmas ornaments…. baby steps. Baby steps.



Categories: Gwenie's Story | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

Gwenie’s Story, Part III: Terror in the ‘Hood

IMG-20150115-WA0009So, as you may recall, we have a Jordanian puppy that came to us through the combined awesomeness of Captain Cassie Wyllie and Puppy Rescue Mission ( In her first days in America, she and I ended up marooned in the Cascade Mountains in the middle of the Willamette National Forest, about as un-Middle Eastern-like terrain as we could have selected for Gwenie’s debut in the Pacific Northwest.

Back in the valley the next morning after our mountain adventure, I figured I ought to show Gwenie the neighborhood. The leash was not something she was terribly thrilled with at first, but she soon got used to it as I walked her around the front yard. That said, the sad puppy eyes she kept flashing at me suggested I was crushing her little soul with this new torture device. Resigned and broken, she trudged around whining every few minutes to let me know she was not okay with this gig. Fortunately, after a bit, she perked up and began bouncing along beside me as we explored the yard. I bent down and pet her and said, “Not so soul-sucking after all, is it dog?”  She ignored that and did her best to still look wounded every time she caught me looking at her.

Now it was time to introduce Gwen to the neighborhood. we stepped across the front lawn, crossed the threshold of the sidewalk and out into the street. The minute we left the property, she fell behind me. I turned and looked at her. Here was my puppy, a world traveler, survivor of snow and car marooning in the mountains, staring at me with an expression of abject fear.

She got up off her haunches and tried to leap back toward the yard, bucking furiously against the leash. I tried to calm her down, but she would have none of that. So, I moved back to the lawn. The minute we made landfall at Chez Bruning, she calmed down and sat quietly beside me.

I wasn’t sure what to make of this. The last warrior animal I had, Volunteers the cat, tore around the neighborhood at Mach 2, getting into everything, attacking dogs, making friends and reveling in every bit of trouble he could find. He once chased a tennis ball for blocks after Renee threw it for him down the street. I had to run after him to make sure he didn’t get gobsmacked by a commuter returning home.

Volunteers eagerly awaiting Ed's next throw of the tennis ball. This was a game that went on for months between the kids and our Katrina refugee.

Volunteers eagerly awaiting Ed’s next throw of the tennis ball. This was a game that went on for months between the kids and our Katrina refugee.

Gwenie saw everything beyond the realm of our yard as a potential threat. For two days, I worked to coax her off the lawn. I have a place of my own that is my writing refuge about a half block from the house, and I was able to convince her to go back and forth between them. But stray from that pattern, and she would flat out refuse to budge. At times, I even had to carry her between the two places.

So, I had a puppy I couldn’t take for a walk. I had no idea what to do. Clearly, my pup had suffered trauma. She’d watched two of her litter mates die in Jordan. Her mom had vanished long before that. Before Cassie found her, she was slowly starving to death in a little den, only a few weeks old. Combine that background with the car rides, plane flights, cages and disorientation over coming to America, it was no wonder she wanted to stick close to the one place familiar to her.

Each night, I took Gwen out and inched her a little at a time, out of her comfort zone. Within a few days, we could make it across the street, outside the normal path we took to get to my other place. I was excited, things were looking up.  I have plans for her–road trips back to the woods and nights on the beach in Aptos, California. But first, we needed to be able to walk around the block. Baby steps.

One evening, I put the leash on Gwen and took her out front. She padded across the lawn, nose pointed for my other place. But I stopped her and said, “Okay, darlin’, we’re going up the street tonight.”

She whined. She gave me the Please, Writer, noooo! look of pure, doggy anguish. We needed to do this. I was not swayed.

I stepped off the curb, and Gwen reluctantly followed. She bolted toward my other place, but the leash stopped her cold. Then she tried to make a break back to the house. Nope. That didn’t work. I waited patiently. It was a cold night, and our breath was fogging around us. The lamp posts nearby cast orange pools of light on the asphalt. Beyond them, the ‘hood was unusually dark. Clouds overhead blocked the starlight and the moon. Gwenie scoured the blackness, looking for threats. I stood and let her do her thing until she calmed down at last.

We started walking up the street, the opposite direction from my writing loft. Gwenie trailed behind, whining periodically. We reached the edge of our property which sits on the corner of two cul-de-sacs. I paused and let her get used to being beside in me in the street, twenty feet from her familiar lawn.

“Okay, ready?”

She didn’t really look ready. But I think I saw her muster up some courage, and I took a step. She followed. Two more and she was trotting next to me.

“Good girl!”

She jumped up and pawed my hip, so I stopped briefly to stroke her head.  She was building herself up for a new adventure, and perhaps she was starting to trust me a little. All that she had known for the last few weeks now was not going to go away. She wouldn’t be torn again from what she found safe. She would be with me, and it would be okay.

We moved forward together and I sensed confidence flowing into my little refugee.  I wanted to make it to the intersection about three blocks north of our place. If we could do that, I figured she’d be able to do anything with me.

We reached the edge of the next cul de sac over. Suddenly, Gwenie recoiled. She keened and kicked backwards, uttering sounds I’d never heard come from a canine before. Fearing she’d cut her paw on something, I spun around to check on her. Terror filled her eyes. Her mouth hung half open, and she was desperately backpeddling. What had happened? There weren’t any people out. No other animals.

“Gwenie! Gwenie! You’re fine, relax!” I kept telling her. She didn’t believe me. Something was about to get her, and I was keeping her from escaping.

I knelt down and tried to coax her over to me. She tugged hard at the leash to get away. That’s when I realized she wasn’t even looking at me. I followed her gaze. She was staring at the naked cherub statue in my neighbor’s front yard.

A faux stone statue had panicked my puppy.

I scooped her up–she weighed all of about fifteen pounds at that point–and carried her home. Enough for one night. We’d try again tomorrow.



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Gwenie’s Story Part 1: Action over Ajerestan, 2010


First Selfie. Gwenie about to get her first round of vaccines since her arrival in Oregon. I have that same look on my face whenever a doc comes at me with a needle. Photo by Gwenie’s dad (that would be me).

Life has a crazy way of working out, something that Gwenie’s arrival here in Oregon underscored for me. This is the story of how a chaotic moment in combat four years ago led to a warrior’s rescued pup reaching my family this Fall.



FOB Ghazni, September 18, 2010. The first step in a long path that brought Gwenie to Oregon. Photo by John R. Bruning

September 19, 2010:

That summer and fall, I was embedded with TF-Brawler, 3rd CAB, and with Bravo Det 168 GSAB, an Oregon and Washington National Guard CH-47 Chinook company. On the 18th of September, which Afghanistan’s national election day that year, I was aboard a Chinook tasked with carrying a platoon of Polish infantry from FOB Ghazni to COP Ajerestan. The Afghan National Army and Police defending the district capital there had been surrounded by hundreds of Taliban fighters. Helicopters going into the COP’s landing zone had been taking fire, so the Chinook crew had been briefed to expect contact. En route, however, the Chinook I was aboard suffered catastrophic mechanical failure. The aft transmission overheated, and the pilots put the bird down on a dry lake bed at the foot of the Hindu Kush. The following day, the 168’s crew was ordered to attempt the run to Ajerestan. This time though, instead of troops, the Chinooks were filled with water and food for the besieged garrison. This article is how that mission forged a lasting friendship, and ultimately resulted in an addition to my family.

Ajerestan was so far from TF-Brawler’s base at FOB Shank that it did not even appear on the map in the 168 GSAB’s company CP. At the time, all I knew was that it was way, way south of Ghazni up in the Hindu Kush. We’d been there once before, and the Chinooks had to climb above their rated altitude to get over the mountain ridges there. When I wrote a piece about that, 168’s company commander, Captain John Hoffman, told me to delete the altitude reference, lest somebody Stateside see it and get everyone in trouble. Operational realities sometimes demanded pushing the aircraft beyond their acceptable performance envelope. That was just the reality of the harsh Afghan terrain.


Loading bottled water aboard the 1-168 Chinook, bound for Ajerestan. Photo by John R. Bruning.

We left Shank that morning, delivered some ANA troops to another remote valley to the west (I think) of Ghazni. Then we returned to Ghazni to fuel up and have lunch. Polish M24 Hinds were buzzing around, and I took a few photos of them until Eric, our co-pilot, came over to tell me that we’d been ordered to Ajerestan. I turned to see a forklift offloading palettes of bottled water into the back of the Chinook. When the operator finished, I climbed aboard and sat down. A moment later, we lifted off with our #2 and an Apache gunship flying escort in our wake.

It had been a long morning, and as we climbed above twelve thousand feet, I started to get tired and cold. I wonder now if part of it was hypoxia. The Chinooks had no oxygen system for passengers in back, and I don’t think they even had oxygen for the crew. Anyway, I went out like a light.



Climbing over the spines of the Hindu Kush on the way to the outpost at Ajerestan. Photo by John R. Bruning.


I woke up as the Chinook suddenly slewed into a tight bank. Grabbing my camera, I picked my way up to the right door gunner and peered over his shoulder. Ahead, I could see COP Ajerestan, a tiny base with such poor force protection that two burned out cars served as a obstacles against speeding vehicle suicide bombers at the otherwise open front gate. The COP was too small to support a helicopter landing pad, so the LZ was outside on a finger of flat ground a short distance from the overturned car.

There were two Blackhawks sitting in the LZ– MEDEVAC birds that had been called in to extract wounded ANA. As we closed on the LZ, a Taliban RPG team lit off a rocket. The RPG shot between the birds and exploded perhaps a hundred meters away from them.

Right then, our Apache escort came into sight.  Thirty mike mike blazing, the gunship swept over the treeline where the RPG had originated then pulled off its run directly toward us at our one o’clock. The bird was low–I mean right on the deck, and the pilot chose to go right under us before pulling up. I snapped several photos of it as it came toward us, then quickly moved over to the left door gunner’s window and shot a few more of it as the Apache pulled up.


Smoke rises from the treeline (at right) where the Taliban RPG team had been concealed. The smoke at left is rising from the edge of the LZ. Scott and Cassie’s Apache can be seen at the bottom of the frame starting their gun run. Photo by John R. Bruning



Scott & Cass coming off the gun run, passing under our Chinook. I took this over the left door gunner’s shoulder. Please don’t repost this one without permission, thank you! Photo by John R. Bruning


Moments later, the Blackhawks sped away from the LZ, and we came in to land. A mad scramble ensued to get the pallets of water off the back ramp. There was no wall between us and the Taliban RPG team’s last position, only a few gnarled strands of barbed wire. A lone ANA sentry hugged the ground not too far away from us, clutching his AK and looking terrified. The gunners helped the crew chief offload the supplies, and looking back, I feel guilty I didn’t help.  I was at the right door gunner’s window, scanning the treeline with a 500mm lens on my Canon 7D, looking for anyone shooting at us.


The lone ANA sentry hunkered down by the LZ, scans the treeline for incoming. Photo by John R. Bruning.

The pallets split open, and water bottles cascaded out into the dirt as the guys struggled frantically to get the load off the Chinook. Nobody from the COP risked coming to help, so the stuff just piled up. Finally, they got the last of the water pushed off the ramp. Eric and Joe, our pilots poured on the coals and we soared up and over the COP. I could see the Afghan flag fluttering from a sandbagged bunker as we clawed for altitude.


Bob and Carmen, piloting the 2nd Chinook in our formation that day, gets airborne from the LZ while under mortar fire. Photo by John R. Bruning

Right behind us came the #2 bird, piloted by a pair of Washington National Guard aviators, Bob and Carmen. Their Chinook touched down just as the Taliban dropped a ranging round from an 81mm mortar. It landed long. As they offloaded their supplies, a second round exploded much closer. The mortar crew was walking fire right onto the LZ. The third one landed danger close, but the Chinook’s crew cleared the cargo bay and sped aloft, the Apache covering its escape.

It had been a tense moment, but none of the helicopters had been hit, thanks in large part to the strafing run the Apache executed.

That night, I was looking at the photos I took that day. The sequence I shot of the Apache included some of the best photographs I’d ever taken, and I was struck by how clear the shots came out despite the maneuvering our pilots had been doing. Then, when I zoomed in on the Apache’s cockpit, I saw a bomb sticker on the co-pilot’s helmet.


Scott and Cass at Ghazni, September 19, 2010. Scott returned for another Afghan deployment and died in a non-combat incident at Kandahar on March 29, 2013. Photo by John R. Bruning.

I remembered seeing that bomb, along with a decal of Rosie the Riveter on the helmet of a female Apache pilot whom I had photographed at FOB Ghazni the day before. I was blown away, and hurried over to the Apache Company to ask who she was, and if I could interview her. I had no idea women were allowed to be Apache pilots, and it turned out she was only one in Task Force Brawler.

That’s how I met (then) 1LT Cassie Wyllie.  Cassie impressed me from the outset when I interviewed her the next morning. She walked me through what she and her pilot, CW5 Scott Reagan, had done over Ajerestan, and when she finished, I thanked her profoundly. It felt to me as if Scott and Cassie had saved a lot of Coalition lives with their timely gun run. At very least, it gave the Blackhawks time to get off the LZ, and us in and out of it before the Taliban had recovered and opened fire again.

Over the course of the next two months, I ran into Cassie several times in the Shank Defac. I would usually be sitting alone, playing Scrabble on my ITouch and eating when she would come over to say hello and sit with me. I was far from home, terribly lonely and missing my family enormously. I’d gone over as an embed without representing any media outlet or news organization, and the financial strain that was causing was pretty significant. I went four months writing nothing but articles for local newspapers about their hometown Soldiers, gratis as sort of a one-writer IO campaign to counter the intense flood of negative press the military had been getting after the McChrystal Rolling Stone piece. So to see somebody like Cass take time to talk to me did wonders for my morale.


Cass in her office. FOB Shank, September 2010. Photo by John R. Bruning


We stayed friends after we both got home. And that friendship deepened and grew as we both went through some rugged times. I know I missed being out there every day, and right now writing about those experiences chokes me up. It was the most meaningful thing I’ve ever done. For those months I was out there, I was among the most dedicated, intelligent and resolute humans I’ve ever known–American, Afghan, Czech, Polish and Jordanian. They’d come together in common cause and purpose, and to be a tiny part of that as an observer and recorder, felt bonding. Staying in touch with Cass kept that bond alive for me.

We saw each other at the Reno Air Races in 2013 and had a wonderful time. I met Cass’s mom and some of her friends. We saw a theatrical production of Grease, and then promised we’d see more of each other. But life has a way of getting in the way, and before we could link up again, the Army sent Captain Wyllie overseas again.

At the end of September, 2014, between 700-2,000 Taliban fighters swarmed Ajerestan in a determined assault. The Afghan forces defending the area were overrun. At least a hundred were killed along with fifteen civilians whom the Taliban beheaded. Ajerestan is now in Taliban hands. It is a very, very difficult thing to take after seeing all the effort put forth by so many dedicated warriors–American, Polish and Afghan–to keep Ajerestan free.IMG_2364





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