TAMPA (FOX 13) - For nearly a year, Nick Pierzchalski flew Blackhawk helicopters in war-torn Iraq. It was his job to airlift wounded soldiers to safety. But of all those lives saved, there's one that touched his heart in a very different way.
"This dog ran up to me, ran up to our group, and befriended us immediately," the Florida Army National Guard pilot recalled of his pup, Airys.
Pierzchalski built her a kennel in the hangar, which must have felt like a resort to the once-feral desert dog.
"It brought great morale to me and the whole group felt like a piece of home," he continued. "She'd hang out with us. She was constantly with us."
Now back home, Pierzchalski hadn't seen Airys since March. But that changed late Thursday night, thanks to the help of SPCA International and Operation Baghdad Pups.
The pair came face to face on the tarmac at Tampa International Airport. When Airys was released from her travel crate, she buried her face in Pierzchalski's big hug.
"You're a lot bigger," Pierzchalski exclaimed as the excited dog wagged her tail.
"I can't even put it on words, I really can't. I didn't think I was going to get her home," Pierzchalski continued, interrupted by kisses from his pup. "She remembers! I was nervous she wasn't going to remember but she obviously does."
The Brooksville resident said he can't wait to see Airys explore, see grass, and chase squirrels. Their new home together is about as far away from a war zone as she can get.