Melanie Pratt is not angry that her father gave away her Happy.
When Lt. Col. Leslie Pratt was deployed to Afghanistan nearly four months ago, he promised to bring Happy the teddy bear back home to Melanie, his eldest.
On Thanksgiving, Pratt met an Afghan girl with calloused feet, mud-caked hands and a white bandage wrapped around her head.
The Afghan child and her father came to the American military base for a checkup with the American doctor who saved her life.
Pratt, a 1979 Rangely High School graduate, found out the little Afghan girl was 7 years old. The same age as Melanie.
Several weeks before Thanksgiving, the little girl’s head was sliced open by shrapnel from a Taliban explosive device in the Oruzgan province.
A 19-year-old American medic reconstructed the girl’s skull in a dusty building, knowing she may eventually die.
On Thanksgiving, the little girl came to see the medic to have her bandage changed. She had lived. He cried.
“They risk their lives seeking help from Americans,” Pratt said via e-mail from Afghanistan. “The young medic was elated to see her. I was deeply moved by this scene, and I think it optimized the character of the American soldier.”
Pratt was so touched by the little girl, he ran to his armored vehicle to get Happy. A translator helped Pratt tell the little Afghan girl that Happy was his daughter’s teddy bear. It was a gift.
Through the translator, the little girl in the green dress and her father passed their thanks along to Melanie.
Pratt e-mailed Melanie to explain why Happy wasn’t coming home.
“I promised to bring Happy home with me, but on Thanksgiving I met a little 7-year-old girl who had nothing except her clothes,” Pratt wrote to Melanie. “The soldiers gave her some shoes, and I gave her Happy. … Thanks for letting Happy come here with me, and sorry I won’t be bringing her home, but that’s OK because now this little girl has a favorite little Happy bear.”
Turns out, Melanie would have done the same thing.
“I didn’t mind,” she said. “It made me feel sorry for that little girl. Her head got injured by a machine.”
Pratt is nearing 30 years in the military. He is an Air Force public affairs officer on loan to the U.S. Army as Commander of American Forces Network — Afghanistan. The job requires multiple media-related duties, but primarily Pratt is responsible for publishing and editing “Freedom Watch — Afghanistan,” a magazine geared toward informing and entertaining 32,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. He is scheduled to come home in February to his family, who live at Robins Air Force Base in Georgia.
In the meantime, he travels around Afghanistan, taking photographs and telling the stories of U.S. servicemen and women.
“In my travels, I’ve seen an amazing variety of things, some inspirational and heartwarming but also a lot of unimaginable suffering and depravity,” he wrote.
He has shared many stories with his family, including how U.S. troops adopted a blind donkey and named it Jack. Melanie likes that story.
Melanie even took photos of Jack, Happy and the little Afghan girl to her first-grade class about a month ago. Melanie’s classmates responded by writing letters in crayon and collecting dozens of toys to ship to Afghanistan.
“We have about 10 bins of toys and got a big toy box full of toys,” Melanie said. “One time, the toy box broke because it was full of toys, so we got the bins. I am happy I’m sending them toys. The really big animals they could probably use for pillows to go to sleep.”
Melanie is proud of her father, but admitted she had a secret. Happy isn’t her favorite stuffed animal anymore.
Her new favorite stuffed animal is 1 week old, and his name is Daddy Bear “because he has the same uniform as my dad. It reminds me of my daddy.”
Adopted from China when she was 8 months old, Melanie has always been a “daddy’s girl,” Diane Pratt said. The couple also adopted Molly, 5, from China.
“He’s got this special feeling in his heart for Melanie,” Diane added. “I can’t explain it. They just really enjoy each other’s company.”
Lt. Col. Leslie Pratt’s parents, Meredith and Bill Pratt, live in Grand Junction.
Story was reprinted with permission from the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel.