Smoke the donkey, beloved Marine mascot and wounded warrior therapy animal passed away last night of natural causes, according to his Facebook page.
After a harrowing, years-long journey that took him from the desert of Iraq to Nebraska via Kurdistan, Turkey, Germany and the glitz and glamor of New York, Smoke the Donkey has moved on to greener pastures.
He was first adopted by the Marines of 1st Combat Logistics Battalion out of Camp Pendleton, Calif., in 2008 as a moral booster after they found him wandering injured at Camp Taqaddum near Fallujah, Iraq. A sergeant caught him roaming the base and tied him up outside now-retired Col. John Folsom’s tent. Folsom, then the camp commandant developed an immediate bond with Smoke, so named because of his color and love for cigarettes which he would snatch out of the hands of Marines and eat — lit or not. Although war-zone regulation banned pets, Marines were able to skirt regulations after a Navy lieutenant endorsed designating him as a therapy animal. The Army’s top veterinarian flew in from Baghdad, did a blood workup and cleared Smoke as healthy.
But when Marines pulled out of Iraq, they were forced to leave him behind. He ended up in the hands of a local family. Folsom became determined to track down Smoke and eventually found him, although a local Sheik initially asked for $30,000 compensation, on behalf of the family. Folsom scoffed at the amount, and the sheik eventually agreed to obtain the animal free of charge.
It took months more to wrangle Smoke who had escaped and was wandering the desert countryside. Once caught, the real trials and tribulations began. Folsom partnered with Terri Crisp, of SPCA International to navigate red tape in Iraq and Turkey. Crisp has for years helped to bring dogs and cats to the United States under a program called Operation Baghdad Pups, but said Smoke was the largest animal she had ever worked to transport. Smoke got held up at the Kurdish border awaiting clearance from Turkish authorities and was refused entry several times. He also had to clear customs in Germany and quarantine in New York, before finally being cleared to enter the United States. In all the final 6,000 mile journey took months and cost more than $18,000, Crisp said. The bill was picked up by SPCA International.
Once in the United States, Smoke made the rounds on cable news, attended parades in New York and eventually settled at Take Flight Farms in Nebraska, an equine therapy facility where horses are used to help people with varying ailments, including wounded warriors. Smoke’s final duty station was to be an 80-acre retreat — The Wounded Warriors Retreat — which is a planned facility for returning service members and their families.
“It is with great sadness to tell you that Smoke The Donkey died last night from natural causes,” reads a final post on his Facebook page. “Smoke touched the lives of so many people around the world who followed his incredible journey from war torn Iraq to his new home in the United States. We will all miss him.”
For more photos of smoke, check out our past coverage of his journey from Iraq to the United States.