PART TWO: “Outside the wire”
by Sarah Bates
06:30 AM, Monday, September 10
Twenty-One Steps of Courage is a military action novel about a Soldier’s mission to honor his father. Written by author Sarah Bates, it recounts the Soldier’s journey from his home in Oceanside, California to Afghanistan and back. Becoming a Sentinel Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown in Arlington Cemetery is his objective, but when the Army learns of his dog handling abilities, an unexpected deployment to a war zone disrupts the Soldier’s plans.

San Diego Pets Magazine is publishing three excerpts depicting this event.

in the July, 2012 printed issue (online now).

in the September, 2012 printed issue (online now).

in the November, 2012 printed issue (online November 11, 2012)


"As he stepped onto the tarmac from the aircraft into a howling wind blowing sand across the airfield, a Soldier in battle dress approached.

"You Specialist Rod Strong?" he asked, pausing to cuff at the dust coating his goggles.

"That's me," Rod replied.

"Get in," the man ordered, gesturing to the idling cattle truck nearby. Two other troops already sat on the long benches in the bed of the truck. Rod pulled himself up and nodded to the men, covering his face against the thick dust swirling around the vehicle.

As the driver barreled down a gravel road away from the landing strip, a convoy of Humvees closed in around the truck with gunners poised in their turrets. Through the murky beam of the truck's headlights Rod could see the Military Police sentries and concertina wire that protected Bagram Air Base. Outside the wire, the rubble of abandoned cars and walls destroyed by IEDs left him with the certain feeling he wasn't safe. Finally, the truck skidded to a stop.

"This is it, guys," the driver called back over his shoulder. "FOB Miracle, your home away from home.”

Someone sneezed.

"You'll get used to the dust," a voice said. "Then it snows. It's worse." A man laughed.

"In there," the driver said to Rod, pointing to a tent. "Y'all report to Lieutenant King."

Rod pushed the tent flap open and stepped inside. The burly lieutenant sitting at a long brown folding table looked up.

"Specialist Rod Strong reporting for duty Sir," Rod said, saluting then offering his packet.

"Ah, been waiting for you!" the lieutenant said. "Dogs got here yesterday from Lackland, they're pacing back and forth; uneasy. You're my first handler to arrive," he said. "Let's get you billeted, then at 0600, report to the kennels and pick out your dog.”

“Yes, Sir,” Rod said.

"Sergeant Black, show this troop where we've set up the dog handlers," the lieutenant shouted.

A small, wiry soldier separated himself from the group of men clustered around a map nearby. He caught Rod's eye and motioned to him.

Rod followed the sergeant down a narrow dirt path to a large barracks tent.

"In here," Black said, gesturing at the empty cots. "Take your pick. Chow's at 0500. Lights out in about an hour."

Rod threw his gear on the ground and slumped down on a bunk near the doorway.

As he drifted off to sleep he heard a single bark. For a moment he thought he recognized Tango's voice and he was in Oceanside beneath the soft goose down comforter on his bed with his black Lab snuggled against his back. Then the noise of grinding gears outside the thin tent wall reminded him Afghanistan was far from home. Do I have the stomach to search for dead people?”

Read the final excerpt in the November 2012 issue of San Diego Pets Magazine.

Twenty-One Steps of Courage is available in paperback or for e-readers. Buy it online at or or at your favorite bookstore. Find out more about this book and the author at

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