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Iraqi kitten reunites with Fort Carson soldier

COLORADO SPRINGS (AP) - Saving Pvt. Hammer became a mission for Fort Carson Staff Sgt. Rick Bousfield of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team.

Pfc. Hammer is an Iraqi tabby cat the unit adopted after he was born last fall at a base in Balad, 50 miles north of Baghdad. When Bousfield found out his unit was leaving Iraq in March, he decided he couldn't leave a member of his team behind. "He has been through mortar attacks," said Bousfield, a 19-year Army veteran. "He'd jump and get scared liked the rest of us. He is kind of like one of our own." Pfc. Hammer got his name from the unit that adopted him, Team Hammer. Soldiers would tuck Hammer in their body armor during artillery attacks, and in return, Hammer chased mice in the mess hall and chased the blues away among soldiers. "He was a stress therapist," Bousfield said. "The guys would come back in tired and stressed. Hammer would come back and bug the heck out of you. He wiped away some worries." The kitten earned his rank after nabbing five mice. When Bousfield learned in January that his unit was going home in March, he started looking for ways to rescue the kitten. He sent an e-mail to Alley Cat Allies, a national clearinghouse of information on stray cats, asking for help. "We had to say yes to an American soldier in Iraq," said group director Becky Robinson. "We had to do it for the animal's sake and the men's sake. They were over there, fighting, doing their job -- and rescuing a kitten." Her group turned to Military Mascots, which helps service members who befriend pets while they are deployed on foreign soils. Alley Cat Allies raised $2,500 for Hammer's shots, sterilization, paperwork and a plane ride to the United States. Hammer left Iraq with his unit in March, then flew from Kuwait to San Francisco in cargo-class, and then flew first class with an Alley Cat Allies volunteer to Denver. Bousfield met the kitten at the airport. "Only my husband would go to this extreme for a cat," Sheri Bousfield said. Hammer is now in Colorado Springs with the Bousfields; their children Tiffany, 15, and Jeffrey, 13; the family's five cats, a dog, hamsters and two geckos.

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