A best friend, a battle buddy, a life saver, a co-author: one dog is all these things to Sgt. Craig Grossi of the United States Marines.
Grossi first met Fred, a “goofy-looking” stray dog, in 2010, when he was deployed in a remote part of Afghanistan. He spotted the canine poking around a few times as his team was fighting off a straight week of siege attacks by the Taliban. When things eventually calmed down, Grossi got his chance to introduce himself to Fred.
“As I got closer to him, I could see he was covered in bugs, he was uncomfortable and his fur was matted,” Grossi tells PEOPLE. “And as I got a little bit closer he started to wag his tail, and that really just froze me, because that is the last thing I thought he would do.”
From there, Grossi thought it was he who won over Fred with a few bits of jerky, but truly, it was the dog who had Grossi “hooked.”
Entranced by this “special soul,” Grossi knew he had to at least try to save Fred from his current life of harshness and hunger. The first step in Grossi’s self-defined “shady” plan to get the pooch to U.S. required a helicopter ride back to base, a place where Grossi could hopefully ship Fred to his family.
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“I had a little conversation with Fred. I said ‘Look this is risky man, if you really want this, I just need you to follow me to the helicopter,’ ” Grossi recalls.
Terrified, but already loyal to Grossi, Fred hopped on the helicopter and into a duffel bag.
“I like to say he had a helicopter ride before a car ride,” Grossi muses.
The next steps in Grossi’s mission to get Fred to his new home called for the Marine to hide the dog on a base where Grossi could get punished for as much as forgetting to shave, until he could smuggle the dog out.
Under the cover of darkness, Fred was evaluated by a British Army veterinarian, who told Grossi that as long as Fred was vaccinated shortly after he hit U.S. soil, he would be fine.
So Grossi fudged the necessary forms and sent his new best friend to his family in America
“That was all I wanted, because I wasn’t sure if I would make it back or not,” Grossi says.
He did make it home, and once he arrived it was Fred’s turn to save him.
“Fred’s message to all is one of stubborn positivity,” Grossi says of how Fred inspires him. “To take all that emotion and energy you use to be stubborn about something and put it into the idea of being positive.”
Admittedly, Grossi is still working on how to fully incorporate Fred’s credo into his post-military life, but he has already found ways that “stubborn positivity” works for him.
“When I would come home from a job I wasn’t crazy about, and I had just spent eight hours behind a desk where it felt like it didn’t matter if I was there or not, Fred was a reminder that I could do something great and worthwhile,” the proud dog dad says.
It wasn’t until Grossi attended Georgetown University after returning home that he began to seriously consider putting his and Fred’s story on paper. The one thing holding him back from following his newfound passion for writing was doubt.
“I knew I loved our story, and it was special to me, but I didn’t know if other people would care that much, because everyone loves their dog,” Grossi, who feels “at home” talking about Fred, explains.
To test if his book inklings were biased toward his own dog or an idea others would love, Grossi set out on an eight-week road trip around the United States with a fellow veteran, taking every opportunity to tell Fred’s story to strangers, “whether they wanted to hear it or not,” he jokes.
People loved it.
While everyone appreciated the creation story of this amazing furry friendship for different reasons, all were touched by Fred’s “stubborn positivity.”
Now, their story, Craig & Fred: A Marine, A Stray Dog, and How They Rescued Each Other, is on shelves inspiring thousands. Far from their beginnings in Afghanistan, the pair now live in Maine and are currently enjoying another trip across the country, this time for their book tour.
A book tour is the perfect environment for Fred, who not only loves meeting new people, but also adores new hotel rooms (especially the pillows).
When he is at home, Fred is fond of the comforts of his new life, which include plush beds, squirrel chasing adventures, more than 56,900 followers on his Instagram account (@FredtheAfghan) and plenty of jerky.
“It could’ve gone wrong 100 different ways at any moment, but that just makes our story more special,” Grossi says.