By Debbie Emery - Radar Reporter
A puppy who was plucked from the front lines in war torn Afghanistan and tucked safely in a backpack will soon be reunited with the soldier who saved his life.
The floppy-eared grey and white pup crawled into the heart of thousands of Americans when an iconic photo of him appeared on the cover of Army Life magazine last year, with his head poking out sleepily from Donny Eslinger's backpack.
Eslinger, of Seminole County, Florida, was serving in Afghanistan last August when he rescued Smoke, who quickly became a morale booster when a member of Donny's company was killed the next day, reported the Orlando Sentinel.
"Smoke was the only bit of morale that made these kids forget where they were and cope with the tragedy we just experienced. It is amazing how therapeutic a little creature can be," revealed Staff Sergeant Daniel, squad leader for B Co. 1-24 Infantry Battalion of the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team.
Man and dog quickly became inseparable, but just more than a month later it was Eslinger who was hit by a mortar, suffering a penetrating chest wound, a head injury, broken ribs and leg, and lost his spleen.
He underwent emergency surgery at Kandahar Airfield Hospital before returning to America for treatment at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, where President Barack Obama later presented him with the Purple Heart for being injured in the line of duty.
When Seminole County Sheriff Don Eslinger Sr. headed to Walter Reed to visit his son on Monday, he took a very special companion with him.
Now seven months old, Smoke landed at Orlando International airport last week after a five-month flight by Donny's fellow soldiers to unite them.
The pair will be back side-by-side soon, and Donny has told his dad he can't wait to pet his pup again.
Eslinger is currently scheduled for more exploratory surgery on his chest wound, along with a procedure to replace a portion of his skull that had to be removed with a metal plate.
"There is nothing physically that would prevent him from making a full recovery," said his father. "He's doing remarkably well. I'm just so proud of him and how far he has come."