Craig Grossi has achieved much in his comparatively young life. He was a U.S. Marine for nine years, which included intelligence work for the RECON unit. He won a Purple Heart, came home and worked for the Defense Intelligence Agency, then got a degree from Georgetown University. Along the way, he rescued a remarkable dog, a short-legged, personality-plus pup he met while on duty in Sangin, a remote area of Afghanistan. And now, he’s written his first book, Craig & Fred, telling the story of how it all came to be—how, in between fighting the Taliban, he struck up a friendship with a stray dog he’d seen nosing around his unit’s compound, and sealed the deal with a piece of beef jerky.
Their story of mutual rescue is inspiring and also enlightening. Grossi, a talented storyteller, gives a sense of immediacy to the combat scenes, and to the everyday slog that comes from going out on nighttime patrols looking for IEDs and the men who are planting them. His portrayal of Fred, and how he won the hearts of the marines by giving the troops a feeling of home also rings true. As Grossi says, the dog had a “way of reminding me of the little kid inside of me. It was a thing that only a dog could do.”
The book’s chapters don’t follow a linear timeline; narratives about Afghanistan—including how Grossi managed to get Fred out of the country—are sandwiched in with a cross-country road trip that Craig, Fred and Josh, a veteran pal, took in 2015, visiting many of the men who knew Fred back when. If the reader feels a little overwhelmed by the sheer brutality and terror of battle, the next page will provide relief with a story about Fred’s rescue, or where the trio is on the road trip.
We learn that the military has a strict no-dog policy, and often kills dogs who have befriended the troops. But somehow Fred made it, with a little help from a lot of friends, including the Ugandan manager of a DHL office in Camp Leatherneck (the marine base in Helmand Province), and Grossi’s sister back home, who made sure all the “export” paperwork was in order.
This work has a lot in common with one of my favorite books of 2015, No Better Friend, by Robert Weintraub. In that one, which is set in WWII, the dog, Judy, was a prisoner of war on the Pacific front. Similar to Judy’s, Fred’s story highlights the nature of resiliency, courage, and the strength of the bond between man and dog. There is just something so compelling in these rather extreme cases of “how I got my dog” stories, and how the dog, in many ways, saves the lives of those he or she touches. Timed well for holiday gift-giving, Craig & Fred is published in two versions, including one for children.