The Orlando Sentinel:
Donny Eslinger was on a mission in Afghanistan last August when he encountered perhaps the friendliest face of his tour of duty there.
It was a small puppy, and it was love at first sight.
Eslinger — son of Seminole County Sheriff Don Eslinger Sr. — rescued the puppy, stashing him in his backpack for the hike back to a checkpoint where he was stationed.
The puppy he named Smoke became an instant sensation when a photo of Eslinger with the puppy in his backpack made the cover of Army Life magazine.
A little more than a month after he rescued Smoke, it was Donny Eslinger, 20, who needed to be rescued.
He was hit by mortar fire while on patrol Sept. 24, suffering a penetrating chest wound, a head injury, broken ribs and a broken leg. He also lost his spleen.
He underwent surgery the next day at Kandahar Airfield Hospital and was transferred to Bagram Airfield Combat Support Hospital, where he was placed in a medically induced coma and was on a ventilator.
Don Eslinger flew to Germany to be with his son at Landstuhl Army Regional Medical Center before Donny was flown to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.
Don Eslinger Sr. left Central Florida on Monday to join his son at Walter Reed, and he took along a companion: Smoke.
The 7-month-old puppy arrived at Orlando International Airport last Wednesday, five months to the day after Eslinger's fellow soldiers in Afghanistan set in motion plans to send the dog to him.
The elder Eslinger said he has arranged to board the dog with a veterinarian near Walter Reed so he can take him to visit his son.
Donny has told his dad he can't wait to be reunited with his pup.
And we can't wait to see pictures of the reunion!