updated 09/28/2010 AT 5:00 PM ET
•originally published 09/29/2010 AT 7:45 AM ET
Mitch is a Steppe eagle that cannot fly. His brown wings, permanently injured, no longer soar through the air. Still, Mitch is about to head from Afghanistan to New York, thanks to the help of a few caring soldiers.
The bird will travel on a military flight with one of his rescuers, a U.S. Navy SEAL operator, as well as with Maj. Eileen Jenkins, the veterinarian who has cared for him in recent weeks. He will likely meet staff members from the office of Senator Charles Schumer, who were instrumental in coordinating the efforts to find him a home outside of Afghanistan, and then he will finally arrive at his new digs, the Berkshire Bird Paradise Sanctuary in Petersburgh, N.Y.
Mitch’s journey began at the end of June. Peter Dubacher, who runs the Berkshire Bird Paradise, had been working with Barbara Chepaitis on a book called Feathers of Hope when they received an e-mail from Afghanistan. The soldier, whose identity must remain anonymous because of security concerns, wrote about an eagle that had been shot, on purpose and at close range, by an Afghan soldier.
He and another Navy SEAL operator picked up the bird, and knowing nothing about veterinary care or eagles, put a t-shirt around Mitch. They then gave him some anesthesia, dressed and stitched his wounds and built him a cage. They fed him chicken, beef, whatever they could find.
“He tries to fly but cannot,” the soldier wrote. “I fear that if it is not rescued out of this place, it will not live much longer. Can you help?”
Dubacher and Chepaitis felt compelled to act. Dubacher, himself a veteran, had started his bird rescue in Vietnam and felt a sense of brotherhood with these soldiers. Beyond that, he was motivated by a sense of duty to address this animal and these men in need. “We try to save what we can, because doing this teaches us how to be better humans,” Chepaitis says.
The process of bringing Mitch into the U.S. was a challenging one. The Fish & Wildlife Services denied their request because Mitch is not a native eagle. The USDA had banned import of birds from the region and promptly shut Chepaitis down. She then turned to Senator Schumer’s office, where she found support, and through those connections, got some help from the White House.
“Everyone grew very attached to the story,” Chepaitis says. “There’s a great deal of admiration that these young men would do this in such a horrendous situation. These guys did something good.”
To the Navy SEAL operators responsible for the rescue, it wasn’t an act motivated by the need to be heroes. “This is just what we do,” they told Chepaitis. “It’s who we are.”
And thanks to their efforts, the eagle named Mitch will finally enjoy some peace at Dubacher’s sanctuary, where thousands of visitors will be able to hear the story of “this very special bird and some very special guys that saved him.”
Read more about soldiers and animals in wartime on PEOPLEPets.com:
Mission: Get These Cats Out of Afghanistan
UK Soldiers Rally to Move Beloved Dog Out of Afghanistan