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Policy exception grants 'Hammer' a home at Fort Benning

Hammer, Nugget and Sophie are inseparable. The blond and white Spitz mix and the two golden retrievers became fast friends when CPT Scott Eberlein and his wife Renner adopted Hammer in 2009.

The Eberleins were granted an exception to policy last week by the garrison commander to ensure the couple and their dogs can stay together on post while Scott attends the Maneuver Captains Career Course. Fort Benning policy states residents can have no more than two dogs while living in post housing. But Hammer is no ordinary dog.

Hammer was found and adopted as a puppy by Eberlein’s mortar platoon Soldiers with 1st Battalion, 24th Infantry Regiment, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, while serving in Iraq in late 2008. The troops named him after their headquarters company motto “Hammer” and he became a force-protection canine as well as the company’s mascot at Forward Operating Base Warhorse.

Hammer’s job was to bark and alert Soldiers to enemy intruders. But Hammer’s role was short-lived. A month later he broke his right front paw. It didn’t heal properly and was later amputated. Eberlein stepped in and adopted Hammer. Hammer continued to walk the FOB on a daily basis with Eberlein by his side.

“I decided I would take him home with me and started looking into ways,” said Eberlein, who was redeploying to Fort Wainwright, Alaska, at the time.

Eberlein contacted Operation Baghdad Pups, a program of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, that helps adopted animals from the war zone get to homes in the U.S.

Eberlein also received help from a local Iraqi contractor who agreed to drive Hammer the 90-minute trip to Baghdad International Airport to meet a U.S.-bound flight in May 2009.

Following a week of quarantine, Hammer was reunited with the Eberleins in Alaska.

“I’m glad to help him have another chance,” said Renner, a self-professed dog-lover who volunteered with a golden retriever rescue association in Alaska. “Dogs in Iraq have it hard and he deserves to be a happy, spoiled American dog.”

Despite missing a leg, Hammer has grown to be an exceptional dog, full of energy, who likes to spar with his “brother” Nugget and looks to Sophie as if she’s his mother, Eberlein said.

Hammer is still wary of strangers — having been trained as a pup to suspect intruders — but is gradually learning to trust outsiders, Renner said.

He tires easily on long walks, the result of working overhard to compensate for his missing limb, and Eberlein said sometimes he has to carry Hammer back home.

“Some Soldiers will say ‘why do you care so much about a dog?’” Eberlein said. “The reason is he brought joy to many people — if only briefly — in a harsh environment.”