“Real heroes … stop in the middle of a sandstorm in Iraq to save a kitten” is the caption that accompanies a photo worth a thousand more words than that. Nestled in the arms of a uniformed soldier is a tiny kitten. But what’s the story behind the meme?
It was originally posted on the Real Men Love Animals Facebook page, and at the time of this posting, it has recieved 9,677 likes and 2,840 shares. And that’s only counting that post — each of those shares and likes has more likes that go with them. It has been spotted all over the place!
It’s a wonderful picture of a heart-warming good deed, and we tracked down the man in the photo. He turns out to be the husband of one of the readers of my blog, a reader who has become a good friend of mine.
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Staff Sgt. Jarrod K. of the U.S. Air Force gave us the story of how he and his fellow soldiers stopped everything to rescue a tiny kitten in the middle of a sandstorm in Iraq.
Jarrod was deployed to southern Iraq in 2007 as a .50-caliber machine gunner. His job was to patrol off base for 14 hours a day, six days a week. No matter what the weather, they were out there.
During a particularly bad sandstorm, he spotted what looked like a little muddy ball squirming around in a trash pile on the side of the road. The movement got the crewmembers’ attention, so they stopped and got out for a closer look.
The muddy ball turned out to be a filthy, starving kitten in desperate need of help. The men scooped her up (she was so weak that she could barely stand) and brought her back to the truck. After washing her down with a few bottles of water, they discovered she was an adorable, light-colored kitten!
Tiny Nala soon perked up after her rescue.
The men didn’t think twice about helping the kitten.
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“Everyone was all about helping her,” Jarrod says. “Seems like people tend to think you turn into some heartless and savage when you deploy into war zones. It’s just not the case for the majority. Everyone I know has pets. It’s no different than seeing a man, woman, or child in need. You just stop and help, it’s the right thing to do.”
Once the kitten was cleaned up, the men took turns shooting photos with her and made her a comfortable place in a box they had in the back of the truck with a towel and some water and tuna.
“If we moved the tuna away from her, the poor little thing would scream. She ate like she’d never been fed before,” he says.
They named the rescued kitten Nala, after The Lion King. It seemed fitting, he says, because she was such a tough little thing to survive out in such harsh conditions.
Jarrod didn’t think twice about rescuing a helpless kitten. How awesome is he?!
Nala came back to the base with them and made herself immediately at home. Technically, they weren’t supposed to bring animals on base, but everyone fell in love with her and showered her with attention. They built her a little fort, and people even sent her little care packages with food and toys and cat beds. She has everything she could need to be comfortable and happy. Everyone loved her, he recalled, including the non-cat people.
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Jarrod was there only for a few months after the rescue, and he didn’t bring her home because at the time it wasn’t an option. Nala stayed on base, safe and sound and getting bigger and stronger. Jarrod’s sure she’s still doing great.
How does he feel about his picture going viral?
“I’m proud that that I was deployed with a great group of guys that all had compassion enough to stop and help her,” he says, adding that he loves cats and always has.
Nala snoozes in her “fort” at the base.
He and his wife have two cats, Flarfin and Mini. He has no idea where Flarfin’s name came from, but it’s clear Jarrod has a special spot in his heart for him.
“He rules. He’s hilarious and I think maybe a little insane,” he says, adding quite matter-of-factly, “Flarfin’s my dude.”
Mini, meanwhile, is a super-lap cat.
And as for his wife, Carol, who originally shared the picture of her husband holding Nala, she is proud of her husband, who she says is smart, kind, dedicated, motivated … (she stops herself there or else says she’d go on for hours).
Jarrod and Carol live at home with Flarfin and Mini, their rescue cats.
“I think the picture shows the human side of our armed forces,” she says.
She added the words on the image because it’s what she believes defines a real hero.
They’re both still a little shocked that it went so viral, but as Carol tells us, “Who doesn’t like to see a big strong man with an itty bitty kitty?”
This post was written by Dorian Wagner, contributor to Catster Magazine.