How two Marines got their once-stray cats from an Afghan patrol base to the U.S.

By Helin Jung
Updated July 12, 2010 09:11 PM

Nawa, in eastern Afghanistan, is a region without many Taliban insurgents. It has green fields situated near the Helmand River, a large marketplace teeming with thousands of people. Still, for U.S. Marines stationed there, Nawa has few of the comforts of home.

“It’s not exactly the most fun time I’ve ever had,” Cpl. Brian Chambers tells of his tour there.

What helped make life on the base a little more bearable for Chambers (not pictured) and the others in his unit were the stray cats that would hang around and, at some point or another, start to resemble pets. For Chambers, that cat was Kiki, a 3-week-old kitten that was dropped off by other members of Chambers’s company in November last year.

Kiki, who was one of several kittens and cats on the base, alternated between roaming the grounds during the day and spending time indoors at night. Even upper command didn’t mind the cats: “They keep out all the mice and the snakes.”

“It gives you something to look forward to at the end of the day,” Chambers says. “They keep you sane, I guess.”

Then, in early March, Kiki went missing. He turned up a few days in terrible condition: Kiki had been cut in four places, possibly the result of someone attempting to skin him. He was treated immediately by HM2 Andrew Kunkel (pictured) and a local Afghan vet, and within three days, Kiki was back to his usual self.

It took just those few, hard days for Chambers to cement his attachment to Kiki, so he made arrangements, with the help of his wife, to get the cat home to Houston.

“At that point, I didn’t want to leave him here, with this stuff going on,” Chambers says. “I was just going to bring him back.”

Chambers’s wife Yianna, who lives in the U.K., helped fill out paperwork, and reached out to a rescue organization called Nowzad Dogs. They helped coordinate and arrange the transfer of four cats from Chambers’s unit: Kiki, KeyKey, Simba and Rako. Chambers himself put up $1,500, and with the help of generous donations, rounded up the necessary $6,000 to transport the four cats to their various destinations.

The cats traveled a long way: From Nawa, they were picked up by a local driver and taken to Kabul, where they were taken to Pakistan, then flown to New York, fostered overnight, then flown again to Houston and Detroit. Simba and Rako, sadly, didn’t make it through the trip.

Since late May, Kiki has been living with Chambers’ parents, who already had four cats in the house. And recently, Chambers flew to Houston himself.

“Kiki recognized me as soon as I walked in,” Chambers says. “He started chasing me around. He follows me everywhere.”

Kiki will have to stay behind for a little while, as Chambers will leave Houston for Hawaii to finish out the rest of his active service. But they will be reunited later this year – and Chambers will be able to spend all the time in the world with the cat that’s finally home.