Staff Sgt. Jesse Knott risked his life while serving in Afghanistan, but it’s the risk he took for a cat named Koshka that’s getting him attention these days.
Knott met Koshka on base in the Maiwand District of Afghanistan, where the feline worked as the unofficial mouse catcher. But despite his service, Koshka wasn’t always taken care of.
"He was showing some signs that people weren't taking very good care of him," Knott told CBS affiliate WBTV. “I found paint in his fur a couple of times. And then people took clippers and shaved his back.”
Concerned for the cat, Knott made room for Koshka in his office, even though soldiers aren’t allowed to have pets.
Then, on Dec. 8, 2011, a suicide bomber targeted a military convoy near Knott’s base and killed two of the soldier’s friends. Knott said he was struck by depression and was crying in his office when Koshka came to comfort 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,” he told the Clackamas Review.
That was when Knott decided that Koshka couldn’t stay in Afghanistan.
"He pulled me out of one of my darkest times, so I had to pull him out of one of his darkest places," he said.
The soldier was unable to get his feline friend on a military convoy, so he forged a plan with a brave local interpreter who agreed to take the cat to Kabul.
Both Koshka and the interpreter were at risk — if the man was discovered to be helping an American, the repercussions could be deadly.
"The risk to him was immense," Knott said. “This is a cat with a purple collar and an American-brand cat carrier, going halfway across Afghanistan, going across God knows how many Taliban checkpoints.”
But the interpreter got Koshka to the Kabul airport undetected, and Knott’s family paid $3,000 to fly the cat to their home in Oregon.
Since Koshka’s rescue, Knott has left Afghanistan and is now stationed in Washington state. When his military service ends, he plans to reunite with the cat that helped him through one of his darkest times.
"He was my saving grace," Knott said. "He kept me alive during that tour."
Watch an interview with Knott — and catch a glimpse of Koshka — in the video below.
More animal stories on MNN:
- Semper Fido: 7 famous military mascots
- Cat-astrophes: Cats rescued from disasters
- 10 weird ways animals have served the military