And along the way, Staff Sgt. Jesse Knott found an unlikely ally in his elaborate plan to evacuate his adopted cat from the war zone in Afghanistan.
In an interview with KPTV, Knott explains that he met his pet cat, Koshka, at his base of operations inside the war-torn country. Koshka was a stray cat, serving a practical purpose as the unofficial mouse catcher. At first glance, Koshka was the "purrfect" weapon.
However, not having a real owner, the cat was often subjected to neglect and cruelty.
"He was showing some signs that people weren't taking very good care of him," Knott said. “I found paint in his fur a couple of times. And then, people took clippers and shaved his back.”
And as Koshka adapted to life inside Knott’s small workspace, the two formed a tight bond. In fact, it was in the aftermath of a bloody battle that Koshka provided Knott with some much-needed solace.
"I'd lost hope in myself. I'd lost faith. Then all of a sudden this cat came over, and it was like ‘hey, you are you,'" he said.
But that same act of kindness made it clear to Knott that if he wanted to do what was best for Koshka, then he had to get his beloved cat out of Afghanistan and to his family home in Oregon.
"He pulled me out of one of my darkest times, so I had to pull him out of one of his darkest places," he told the station.
That’s when Knott staged an elaborate and risky evacuation plan for his cat. First, he enlisted the help of a local Afghan interpreter who transported the cat to Kabul.
Both the cat and the interpreter were at risk. Knott had to trust that the man would take care of the cat, but he also knew that if the man were discovered to be helping an American, his own life would be at risk.
"The risk to him was immense," Knott said. “This is a cat with a purple collar and an American-brand cat carrier, going halfway across Afghanistan. Going across God knows how many Taliban checkpoints.”
But the interpreter did eventually get Koshka to the airport in Kabul. From there, Knott’s family spent $3,000 to fly Koshka to Oregon, detouring through Islamabad, Pakistan, and New York City.
Knott himself has since left Afghanistan and is now stationed in Washington state. His service in the military will soon be over, and he says he can’t wait to be permanently reunited with the animal that meant so much to him during a time of physical and emotional vulnerability.
"He was my saving grace," Knott told KPTV. "He kept me alive during that tour."