Afghanistan, May 21, 2013, it was hot and dusty. Her lips were dry as usual and at her side was, Norman, a Belgian Malinois. He went everywhere with her, they were a team. Sgt. Felicity Steele, Military Police, 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force, at Camp Leatherneck and Norman have been partnered for 4 years. Their duties, patrol the surrounding area, keeping an eye out for enemy combatants trying to gain access to the base.
“Well, Norm,” Steele said. “We’re in for a hot one again. Better get you some more water”. When Norman raised his head, he sniffed the air. First to the left then to the right and back again. He became agitated. Steele whispered, “ What is it, boy? What do you sense?” Then she heard something coming from behind some storage containers. She commanded “Alert”. Which told Norm he was on high alert for danger.
She and Norman had just turned a corner of stacked containers, when they spotted a young teen hiding behind another. “Come out. Come out now with your hands up!” She yelled. Norm was barking wildly. The boy came closer. She let the lead play out so Norman could approach the teen. When he was ten feet from the Afghan, the boy started to raise his hands, when Norman suddenly turned toward her and ran full speed, leaping into Steele, full force when the boy’s vest exploded.
Everything was in slow motion. Felicity yelled out, “Ohhh Shittttt!” as she saw Norman leaping at her, a bright flash behind him. She was reaching out to catch Norm, but he seemed to turn into a red mass of pulp, then she fell backwards hitting the ground, everything starting to turn black.
She hurt. Her head hurt, her chest hurt, her feet hurt. What if there was no end to this pain? What if it got worse? These thoughts alone were enough to get her heart racing faster, never mind the pain itself. For a second, she considered listening to her body, which was telling her to stop, to just give up and let the darkness take her. She listened.
She was taken to the medical station to look after her injuries. When she came to, all she saw, were faces surrounding her. She couldn’t make out what they were saying. Her focus kept coming and going when finally, her first words were “Norman, how’s Norman?” At first, no one answered. When they finally did answer they said, “Relax Sgt. we’ve got you, you’ll be okay. Just relax and let us do our job. She struggled to get up, but they held her down. She felt a small prick and then the blackness returned.
She came out of surgery seven hours later, with her left shoulder and chest bandaged with numerous minor cuts and scrapes . In recovery, she struggled out of a foggy haze mumbling, “Norm, come here Norm.” When the nurse came around to check her vitals, again, she asked about Norman. No one had any answers for her.
The next day, her CO, Lieutenant James, came to see her. “How are you holding up Sgt.?”
“I feel like a tank ran over my left shoulder and… ah..chest hurts like hell,” She replied. “ Where’s Norman? Who’s looking after him?”
The lieutenant looked down at his feet and slowly raised his head saying, “I’m sorry to have to bring you the bad news, but Norman was killed by the blast.” Felicity stared at him. They started as tiny drops of moisture in her eyes. “Noooo…” she cried, then the tears came full force. Her chest heaved up and down with every sob, inflicting extreme pain in her breast and shoulder.
“He saved your life,” The lieutenant said. Giving her some time to settle down and take in the horrific news, he continued, “All accounts said the same thing. Norman suddenly turned and it appears, intentionally, jumped up to purposely shield and knock you down.” He watched as she took in the information.
She didn’t remember. “Can I see him?” She asked.
“I don’t advise it. He took the bulk of the shrapnel headed toward you.” James said. “Remember him the way he was, not what he is now.”