"You lose faith in a lot, but sometimes it's the smallest things that bring you back."
This is how Staff Sgt. Jesse Knotts describes his life in Afghanistan. The decorated solider had seen the worst: Two of his friends were killed when a suicide bomber attacked a military convoy near his base in December 2011. Knotts was safe, but bore scars nonetheless. "I was so devastated that I lost all hope. Two of my friends were violently taken away," he told HLN affiliate KPTV.
As Knotts was mourning his fallen friends back on base, a cat suddenly jumped into his lap. Whether it was fate or a sign, Knotts knew this was just the sort of companion he needed. He named the cat "Koshka" -- the Russian word for "cat."
Knotts knew his new friendship broke military rules. "We are not allowed to have pets, and the reason is for fear of rabies or other viruses that animals present to soliders," Knotts told CNN. But still, Knotts felt an obligation to the animal. Koshka was barely older than a kitten when Knotts found him, and over time, he monitored him and cared for him. When it became clear the cat was not a risk, Knotts started making plans to spirit it away to safety. Koska couldn't catch a ride on a military convoy, so Knotts relied on a brave local interpreter who offered to get Koshka to Kabul. It was a risk, since the Afghan interpreter could have been killed for helping an American, but both completed a safe journey.
Once in Kabul, Knotts' parents paid the $3,000 necessary to get Koshka back to the United States. It may seem a steep price, but to the family, it was worth every penny. After all, according to Knotts, the soldier and the cat had taken care of each other when everything else was falling apart.
"He pulled me out of one of my darkest times so I had to pull him out of one of his darkest places," Knotts said.
Knotts says he hasn't been reprimanded for his furry stowaway, probably, he surmises, because his story is so public now. It's a story he wants everyone to know.
“Thankfully I can share this story," Knotts told CNN, "because people are so used to hearing all the tragedies in Afghanistan and they hear a story about a soldier rescuing a cat, and people can see past the horrors of what happens to us down there.”