Marines' donkey mascot comes to U.S. after Iraq rescue

Wed May 18, 2011 4:09pm EDT
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By David Hendee

OMAHA, Neb (Reuters) - Smoke the Donkey's long odyssey from Iraq to Omaha gives new meaning to the U.S. Marine Corps motto "semper fi."

For Retired Marine Colonel John Folsom of Omaha, the Latin phrase -- "semper fidelis" in full -- for "always faithful" has become "semper fi(nally)."

Smoke's arrival Wednesday in Omaha ends an 18-month international effort to rescue the former Marine mascot from war-torn Iraq.

The donkey will soon begin a new life in Nebraska as a rehabilitation therapy animal for military personnel and their families.

"Smoke is a civilian now," Folsom said. "His work with the Marines is over. Now he begins his work with children."

Folsom and his unit rescued the malnourished Iraqi donkey at Camp Taqaddum in 2008. Folsom was the Anbar Province camp's commander. Marines nursed the donkey back to health and built a corral and stable. Soon Smoke was the unit's mascot.

Regulations prohibited keeping the donkey but Folsom found a Navy psychologist to designate it a therapy animal because it reduced stress among the Marines. Deployed dads sent their children pictures and stories of Smoke.

The donkey learned to walk into offices and open desk drawers to find apples, carrots and other treats planted there by Marines. Smoke walked in the camp's September 11 parade cloaked with a blanket emblazoned with the unit's crest on one side and the words "Kick Ass" on the other.   Continued...

<p>"Smoke," the donkey mascot adopted by Retired U.S. Marine Colonel John Folsom and recently evacuated from Iraq to a new home in Omaha, Nebraska is seen in this undated file photo shot by Folsom at an unidentified location in Iraq and released by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals International on May 18, 2011. REUTERS/John Folsom/SPCAI/Handout</p>