A U.S. Army official from Oregon City who served at a camp deep inside Afghanistan received statewide recognition for developing an unlikely friendship with a cat.
Sgt. Jesse Knott found the young cat, now named Koshka, being abused by tormentors. He first saw him a couple of days after he arrived in Southern Afghanistans Maiwand district near a village called Hutal. He was deployed on June 3, 2010, and he arrived at COP Rath in late June.
Koshka was a small kitten of perhaps a month or two old at the time of meeting Knott. He was a loving affectionate kitten at first, but started showing signs of being abused a couple of months after Knotts team arrived.
The final straw was when I found him limping one day with a bloody injury to his toe pad and what seemed to be a possible hip injury, Knott said. I decided to treat his wounds and keep him sequestered in my office. Shortly after I treated his wounds, we bonded and I knew I had to keep him safe until I could find a way to rescue him.
Knott was able to take Koshka under his wing after being wounded in a previous deployment to Iraq. He was not able to perform his normal infantry duties and was assigned to gathering and processing all battlefield intelligence for the company commander. So Knott had a locked office in which he could secure Koshka.
Knott says he was something of a misfit in high school, which may have helped him relate to a cat that couldnt find a place in Afgani society. Knott went to West Linn High School for a while and ended up in a continuation high school program in Beavercreek called the Sage School that was behind the Clackamas Community College campus in Oregon City. He received a GED in 1993 and wound up doing this and that, ending up in software engineering before deciding to join the Army. He graduated OSUT Infantry basic training at Fort Benning in March 06.
But in one fateful day, Koshka and Knott became inseparable. On Dec. 8, 2010, a suicide bomber hit a patrol comprised of members of Knotts platoon, killing two and seriously wounding the rest.
Once the facts set in and there was nothing I could do, I returned to my office, and a depression struck me like I had not felt since Iraq when a similar event happened, Knott said. Koshka walked up onto my desk, started to mew and bonk my head purring until I would look up at him. With tears in my eyes he locked eyes with me, reached out with his paw and pressed it to my lips, then climbed down into my lap curled up and shared the moment with me.
As soon as Knott realized that he shared a bond with Koshka, he knew that he had to get him back home to Oregon City one way or another. Knott called and emailed several organizations before finally reaching the Afghan Stray Animal League (http://www.afghanstrayanimals.org/).
This organization is amazing in what they did and do on a daily basis, Knott said. The only problem was that they are based in Kabul, and I was in Maiwand, nearly half way across Afghanistan.
Knott tried everything he could think of, and was becoming desperate at the point where he was a week away from leaving for good. He had still had not been able to get any mode of transportation for Koshka to the Tigger House, which was the name of the organizations facility in Kabul.
I had contacted friends and family back home and we had put together the money to pay for his trip, but getting him to Kabul was proving to be impossible, I knew that if I left him behind I would be damning him to be tortured and most likely put to death under Army regulations, he said.
At the last minute, Knott spoke about the problem with one of his interpreters, who volunteered to take Koshka with him when he left for Kabul to go on holiday.
I could hardly believe it, Knott said. If he were stopped by a Taliban checkpoint, he surely would have been killed for working with the Americans since the locals of the area put so little value in anything but livestock. Pets were practically unheard of, and should someone take a pet, it was pretty much always a dog.
The Oregon Humane Society honored Knott among five heroes on Feb. 27 with Diamond Collar Awards recognizing both animals and people for remarkable achievements. OHS Executive Director Sharon Harmon noted that Knott endured a chaotic, dangerous and deadly situation with so much out of his control. But what he could control was his compassion, and in an effort to right a terrible wrong, he reached out and saved the life of a cat.
Heroes dont always leap through fires or pick up cars with one hand, sometimes its a sustained act of kindness, exercised one small step at time for over a year that is the heroic act, Harmon said. While Sgt. Knott certainly gave Koshka a chance at life, what is apparent to all who have met the soldier, the cat equally returned the favor with hope and affection, delivered in soft purrs and a reason to stay strong during a grand test of his faith and belief in humanity.