It’s Christmas morning, and I am wondering if it’s too early to break out the bourbon. We are at a CIA base in eastern Afghanistan, about 12 kilometers from the border with Pakistan, in the heart of Pashtun country. It’s a quiet morning, no rockets have been fired at the base, and there are no reports of any immediate planned attacks coming our way.

We have propped up a few makeshift Christmas trees that some of our terps were good enough to find for us up in the mountains, and we’ve festooned them with red and green chem lights as decoration. Someone has set up some speakers with an iPod (it is 2006, after all…), and there is some old-fashioned Dean Martin Christmas music playing. Nice. Almost like home. Enough to make a guy forget about the Hesco barriers and razor wire keeping us safe(ish) from the evils lurking outside the wire.

Our chief of base has been good enough to give us a break for the day, as we usually work from about 7:30 a.m. until about 10 p.m.  On this Christmas day, though, we will just check for important cable traffic, and then take it easy and celebrate. We have a turkey to baste, and some other goodies sent over to us special from Kabul Station. We are planning quite the luxurious day, by Afghanistan standards.

And then Sandbag imploded our plans. It seems one of our base dogs decided she would chase something into the razor wire. We had about four or five named pet dogs at any one time, most of which were rescued as puppies off the streets of the town near which our base was located. You had to save them early, or they became vicious Afghan street dogs. You had to get them back to the base and raise them as American dogs from the earliest possible age, or they’d turn.

Sandbag had been saved, and was just like your average domesticated dog back home. We all loved her, as well as her best bud Stan (pictured above, on the left; Sandbag is on the right). Anyway, Stan and Sandbag were the OGA dogs. Brown Dog and Son of Brown Dog kind of belonged to the ODA; the OCF guys had a stupid monkey and some parrots or something.  Who knows?  Anyway, I digress….

Happier times, snacking on a rat.

That morning, Sandbag had wandered into the razor wire, and she and Stan came trotting into the compound’s outside common area, near our fire pit, where we were exchanging presents on Christmas morning.  Both she and Stan looked rather frantic, and Sandbag was clearly bleeding out from a severed artery in her left hind leg. I was the first to see her, and I muttered to myself, “Oh, shit,” and immediately sent someone to find Doc Bill. Doc Bill was our medic, and he was/is a legendary Ranger doc; if anyone could save her, I knew he could.

Doc came hustling over, no doubt thinking there was some emergency involving one of the base personnel, but when he saw Sandbag, and the pool of blood forming around her, he said, “Bring her to the infirmary right now.” One of our paramilitary guys wrapped her up in a blanket and hustled her into the infirmary. Beth, another case officer, and I followed, as did the paramilitary case officer. We all wanted to do something to help Sandbag, and thought maybe Doc could use some extra hands.

You have never heard a dog wail the way Sandbag wailed on that operating table. Doc Bill did not want to over-anesthetize her for fear of killing her, and he gave her what was probably a too-small dose of anesthesia. She was feeling it. Big time. You can’t blame the man, though, as he was not a veterinarian. He was treating Sandbag like he would a wounded Ranger. He wasn’t trained to stop an arterial bleed on a dog. Luckily, for her, he winged it.

On the operating table

While the paramilitary case officer and I held Sandbag down on the table, Beth kept her muzzled, and whispered to her to keep her calm. Doc rooted around in that leg for the artery, found it, and proceeded to tie it off/sew it up. Truthfully, I don’t know exactly what the hell he did in there. I only know that he rooted around, found it, clamped it, and fixed it. Sandbag wailed like a banshee, thrashed quite a bit, and shook violently. She stayed conscious and alert, though, and stayed alive.

I do not even know how long Doc operated on Sandbag. Really, it could have been an hour, or three. It took a little bit of time, I know that, and we all stayed through to the end. Doc had been worried she might even need a blood transfusion, so we debated prepping Stan for a blood donation, but we held off. We thought Sandbag might pull through after Doc finished, and we had to hope for the best.

After she was done on the operating table, and Doc Bill, covered in her blood and looking like he had just spent hours in surgery in some U.S. hospital OR, declared her fit to go to post-op, we carried the old girl back to one of the empty sleeping rooms and got her settled in to recover. We put her on a soft club chair, wrapped her in a blanket, and took turns standing vigil over her, as she shivered in the room.

In the recovery room.

I honestly did not think Sandbag would make it, but Beth was determined that she would. Beth stayed with her the longest, and nursed her back to health. And you know what? Sandbag made it. That tough old dog pulled through, and within a few weeks, she was outside playing again and having fun with Stan. She had been saved by Doc Bill, and had earned herself a Purple Heart in Operation Enduring Freedom.

I left Afghanistan a few months later, and Sandbag was still happy and healthy. She had healed completely, and you would never have known she was hurt. She had been pulled from the clutches of death by Doc Bill on that Afghan Christmas morning. That is the story of saving Sandbag. I can only hope she is still happily roaming around on that base.