FRANKFORT, Ky. (LEX 18) — Tuesday marks the first day in 20 years the United States is not at war in Afghanistan, but the harrowing events of the past few weeks have revealed what service members lost during the country’s time in the Middle East.
While reflecting can be tough for Kentucky veteran Daryl Casey and his family, the events are also a reminder of something he gained.
"This thing going on in Afghanistan has ripped off a lot of scabs,” Casey said.
As the flag flew at half-staff outside Casey’s Frankfort home this week, he recounted his four deployments. His first was during Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm in 1991 with the United States Navy. As a guardsman with the Kentucky Army National Guard, he was also deployed to Iraq twice. His final deployment was to Camp Buehring in Kuwait in 2014.
“I was going through a hard time on this last deployment,” he said. “Fourth one… I had kind of checked out honestly.”
Then, Casey met a cat.
“Honestly, he probably saved my life,” Casey said.
Stanley was born on the Army base on September 19, 2014, along with six other kittens in his litter. He quickly chose Casey, often jumping into his lap. Casey and other soldiers named the cats and brought them food. After bonding for months, it was Christmas Eve when the guardsman decided he couldn’t leave Stanley behind.
“I called Becki my wife, and I said, ‘I'm getting this cat home,’” Casey said.
“I was like, ‘Oh, we're getting a cat!’” said Becki Casey, an animal lover who also met her husband while working at a veterinarian’s office. “We’re getting a cat.”
With their decision made, the couple had to figure out how to get Stanley home. They raised money, while Daryl found a crate and someone to transport Stanley. He also had to get Kuwait currency to pay for Stanley’s travel. The process wasn’t easy, but they were determined to get him to Frankfort.
“I’m a Kentucky boy,” Casey said. “So I said, ‘Hold my beer!’”
Stanley ended up arriving in Kentucky before Casey returned from his deployment. Becki was there waiting for him, and she slept by his side the first night he arrived.
“Stanley is our little furry angel,” Becki said. “I really think God put him there for a reason.”
When the Caseys were arranging Stanley’s journey home, they also relied in part on Nowzad, an Afghanistan-based nonprofit that helps service members adopt animals out of Middle Eastern countries. Their clinic staff includes 24 Afghan nationals, and the country’s first female veterinarians, according to the organization’s website. Since Nowzad was founded, they have reunited more than 1,600 cats and dogs with their service members.
But after the United States pulled out Afghanistan earlier this month, the founder of Nowzad was forced to flee the country. While former U.K. Royal Marine Pen Farthing was able to make it out of Afghanistan with the rescued animals, he’s still figuring out how to get the Afghan staff to the United Kingdom.
“Daryl didn’t necessarily serve there, but we feel a connection to those people because of Nowzad,” Becki said.
For the couple, it’s hard to imagine a life without Stanley and the people who helped get him home.
“I'm a little afraid it would be drastically different,” Becki said. “And not necessarily in a good way.”
They hope one day Nowzad can continue the work at their shelter in the Middle East, while they raise awareness about the organization and the joy Stanley brought into their lives.“The love of a little cat overseas saved me from a deep dark place where I was at,” Daryl said.
You can follow Stanley on Facebook here.