Smoke the Iraqi donkey is on a publicity tour of the United States after making his first public appearance Sunday at a farm just outside of Warrenton, Va.
Smoke, the former 1st Marine Logistics Group mascot in Iraq, was the guest of honor at a bar-b-que hosted by Debbie and Alan Nash, polo enthusiasts and friends of retired Col. John Folsom, the Marine who fought for months to bring Smoke to the United States from Iraq via Turkey and Germany.
At the Nash’s place, Smoke got his first bath and was pampered with carrots and more grass than he likely ever saw near Fallujah.
By Monday he was in New York to appear on the TV circuit including Fox News, said Craig Pirtle who is on the board of director’s for Folsom’s non-profit organization Wounded Warriors Family Support. Folsom and Pirtle have also been contacted by Jimmy Kimmel Live and Folsom said the idea of a movie is being kicked around.
“I think at this point he is probably more famous than Shrek’s donkey,” Folsom said. “Colonel Potter of Mash had a horse, I have a donkey.”
For the back story on Smoke see the original Marine Corps Times story, “Smoke the donkey heading to the U.S.” our more recent blog post, “Smoke the Donkey, former Marine mascot, back in the U.S.”
Smoke was adopted in 2008 in Iraq as the 1st Marine Logistics Group mascot at Camp Taqaddum, where Folsom was the camp commandant.
It was revealed at yesterday’s welcoming party that the idea for a donkey mascot all started with Maj. Gen. Robert Ruark who is now the Assistant Deputy Commandant for Installations and Logistics. At the time he was Folsom’s boss. The two were watching a comical video of Marines trying to wrangle a donkey which was sped up and played to the Benny Hill theme song. Ruark made an off-the-cuff, half-serious remark that it was funny and they should have a donkey.
Folsom took it as commander’s intent and ran with it, charging a sergeant at the base with finding a donkey. Folsom was awaken one day to the sound of smoke hee-hawing outside his hooch. Then Sgt. Juan Garcia, now a drill instructor at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, had tied smoke up for the colonel to find.
Ruark was surprised to find a donkey being kept on the base when he returned from a trip, but found that Smoke was a good fit. Standing regulations banned having animals, but a Navy psychologist sponsored Smoke by writing a six-page report that said he would make a good therapy animal. It worked and Smoke was allowed to stay. He boosted moral and became a topic of conversation between Marines and their children, some of whom thought smoke was the Shrek donkey.
Eventually Marines pulled out of Iraq and were forced to leave Smoke behind. But this October, Folsom began fighting to bring Smoke home. After months of tracking him down, wrangling him and transporting him to the United States through Turkey and Germany, Smoke finally arrives at JFK International Airport in New York on Thursday. He was held in quarantine until Saturday.
The entire ordeal was a complicated, difficult journey during which Terri Crisp, of SPCA International, helped Folsom by navigating 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. It cost more than 18,000 just to ship Smoke, she said. The bill was picked up by SPCA International.
Ruark said he was amazed by the dedication Folsom had to Smoke.
“It was virtually a logistics miracle,” Ruark said at the Sunday bar-b-que. “John should be an honorary logistician.”
Folsom, a former CH-46 pilot, plans to transport Smoke to Nebraska. At first he will live at Take Flight Farms, an equine therapy facility where horses are used to help people , including wounded warriors, with varying ailments. But Smoke’s final duty station will be a retreat being built for wounded warriors and their families by Folsom’s non-profit. And Smoke’s whirlwind media tour could help raise money for the construction.