When Army Sgt. Joe Wardell learned he was going to be deployed to Afghanistan for a year, he wondered how to explain his absence to his 3-year-old son, Clive.
He started by drawing a map of the world on his dining room wall. Wardell told his son that Daddy would be flying over the big water to a place called Afghanistan. “I want to go with you,” Clive insisted.
And that’s when Doodey came to the rescue.
Doodey is a stuffed camel Wardell bought for Clive at Point Defiance Zoo in Tacoma. “I got the idea to take the camel with me and take pictures of Doodey and me.”
Wardell, 32, was stationed in Afghanistan from July 2011 to July 2012. The photos of Doodey’s adventures with him evolved into a book, “Doodey the Combat Camel.”
“Growing up, I always wanted to be a writer. I’ve always wanted to have a book in print,” he said.
Working on the book in his hot, dusty tent in Pasab offered Wardell a much-needed distraction from the hazards of his job. “It kept me focused,” he said. “You need something when you’re there.”
Assigned to the 22nd Engineer Clearance Company, Wardell and his fellow soldiers spent countless hours driving down rugged roads looking for improvised explosive devices.
Route clearance is dangerous duty. “We find two out of every three IEDs out there,” he said. It’s the third one that causes problems. Wardell’s eyes filled with tears as he talked about the friends he lost in Afghanistan.
“We experienced an unusually high amount of blast. Our vehicle was hit eight times.” He paused and looked down at his hands. “Just about everyone else was injured in those blasts, but I don’t have a scratch on me.”
Difficulty in communicating with Clive only added to his anxiety. Internet connection was sporadic at best.
So he concentrated on completing the book, hoping he’d still be around to share it with his son. He set up a publishing company, Little Clive Press, and published “Doodey the Combat Camel” in March. He was able to do this while overseas with the help of his friends, author Theresa Bane and her husband, illustrator T. Glenn Bane.
Recently, Clive, now 5, showed off “his” book. He opened it to a picture of a world map. “That’s me, right there,” he said, pointing to his name with an arrow positioned over Washington.
With Doodey resting on the table near him, the Spokane Valley kindergartner turned a page. “This camel is looking for bombs,” Clive said. “He’s looking in the ground for bombs.”
Carefully turning another page, he pointed to a picture of a wrench. “That’s a wrench for the engine. It brokes down and dad has to fix it.”
Another photo reveals the small camel next to a couple of soldiers. “They’re talking to Doodey in the tent,” Clive explained.
Wardell hopes “Doodey the Combat Camel” will be more than just his gift to Clive. “I’d like it to be used as a tool to explain deployment to our kids.”
In addition, he said, “All proceeds from the book are being used to help Pfc. Zach Parker and his family. Pfc. Parker was a medic in our company who was hit by an IED and lost three limbs. He’s recovering in Texas.”
Wardell already has another book in the works – this one without Doodey. “It’s called ‘Clive and the Dinosaurs,’ ” he said. “We go back in time and have an adventure.”
As Clive played with Legos and occasionally tuned into the adult conversation, Wardell’s eyes were fixated on the boy he’d missed so much.
“My bond with my son is really strong,” he said. “My kid inspires me.”