A wounded soldier and Purple Heart recipient who recently returned home from Afghanistan has now been reunited with a puppy he adopted while on the front lines thanks to the efforts of The Puppy Rescue Mission, a group that helps bring soldiers back together with their overseas pets, NBC Washington reports.
Donny Eslinger, 20, traded three cigarettes for the dog while on a tour in Afghanistan. He took care of the dog, whom he named "Smoke Pup Barbarian," until he was critically injured in a mortar attack.
Eslinger suffered from a broken leg, broken ribs, and other internal injuries in the blast.
Smoke Pup was left behind when Eslinger was flown out of Afghanistan to Germany and then back to the United States where he was admitted to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, according to NBC Washington.
That's when Eslinger's squad leader, Staff Sergeant Daniel, wrote to Puppy Rescue Mission. In the letter, Daniel described how he sent Esligner and three other wounded soldiers home while the unit was engaged in a "pretty intense fight with no visible enemy."
In the letter, Daniel described the special relationship Donny and other soldiers in his unit formed with Smoke Pup:
Smoke was the only bit of moral that made these kids forget were they were and cope with the tragedy we just experienced. It is amazing how therapeutic a little creature can be. Donny took care of that dog up until he was injured. Many of us in his Platoon would love nothing more than to see Smoke reunited with Donny. It would be the only decent thing we would see come from this place ... Donny will have a lot to deal with over the next year and Smoke could be a catalyst for recovery.
The Puppy Rescue Mission arranged for Smoke Pup to be flown to Florida and then to Bethesda, Maryland, where Eslinger is still receiving treatment for his injuries.
Last October, President Obama awarded Eslinger a Purple Heart for his injuries sustained in the line of duty, the Orlando Sentinel reported.
Don Eslinger Sr. told the Sentinel that his son has a long road to recovery and will undergo a number of surgeries to close the wound in his chest and to replace a portion of his skull that had to be removed due to swelling.
But he knows that if anything can help Eslinger during his difficult recovery, it's Smoke Pup.
"This dog Smoke will help him heal even faster. He's a strong kid and he's done remarkably well," Eslinger Sr. told WESH News.