Fred is a street dog from Sangin District in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. Despite being from one of the harshest environments in the world, he managed to maintain a positive attitude.
Craig was a member of an elite team of Marines. Sangin was his most dangerous assignment, not the place he thought he would meet his first dog, but with some proper scheming and a lot of help, Craig was able to send Fred home to his family while he completed his tour.
After Afghanistan, Craig left the Marines in search of a new mission – to share his story and his adventures with Fred, and the message of “stubborn positivity” that Fred inspired. His first book, Craig & Fred: A Marine, A Stray Dog, and How they Rescued Each Other is available in stores and online as adult and young reader’s editions from William Morrow and HarperCollins Children’s.
Craig and Fred’s new book, Second Chances, tells the deeply emotional and inspiring story of the next phase of their lives together: working closely with prison inmates in Maine who raise and train puppies to become service dogs. Preorder now wherever books are sold!
Interview by Sydney Balmer
Tell me about your book “Craig and Fred”
My first book, Craig & Fred is the story of how and where I met my first dog, on a hot and dusty battlefield in Sangin Afghanistan back in 2010. At the time I was serving as a Human Intelligence Collector alongside the Marines of 1st RECON Charlie Company. We were expecting the worst during our time in Sangin. The Taliban had total control and were inflicting major casualties to other units in the area. What we weren’t expecting, was to come across a stubbornly positive stray dog that we eventually named “Fred”. We had all bonded with him but, when it came time to leave, the responsibility of getting him from the battlefield to the states fell on my shoulders. In Craig & Fred, the reader is right there with me on my journey from Marine to college student to author and it becomes obvious quickly that Fred has rescued me many times over since we first came together. It is a story I’m proud to share.
Tell me about your latests book “Second Chances”
SECOND CHANCES is about Fred and I’s time volunteering with inmates sentenced to Maine State Prison. We were invited to speak to the men of the prison book club after they read our first book in 2018. After that first visit, however, I found myself spending more and more time with the men, volunteering to visit with Fred, and talk more about writing and dogs. I was intrigued by a lot of things about the prison, mostly a program run by America’s VetDogs that partners inmates with puppies for service dog training. It’s an incredible process that I didn’t appreciate until I saw the work firsthand. Spending time with the men of Maine State Prison, many of them veterans, inspired me to reflect on my own life and the “second chances” I’d received. It is a “practice” that I hope to inspire in others with my latest book.
How has writing helped you personally? Has it changed the way you think or your perspective on things?
Writing has given me purpose. It has allowed me to make sense of the ups and downs in my life and find reasons to be grateful. I’ve always considered myself a storyteller but diving deeper through the writing process has really shown me how lucky I’ve been throughout my life. That is something I get into in SECOND CHANCES.
Is there a short story from your book you would like to share?
Both CRAIG & FRED and SECOND CHANCES are full of short stories from myself and the people I’ve had the privilege of spending time with. From CRAIG & FRED I’d encourage people to read the chapter, EXTRACT for an exciting part of Fred’s journey. In SECOND CHANCES the chapter titled LIBERTY will give readers a close look at Randy Liberty, the then warden of Maine State Prison. He’s a combat veteran, former Sheriff, and truly incredible person with an inspiring story.
What is the biggest take away you hope a reader will learn from your books?
I hope that readers come away with a new appreciation for their own 6journey and more compassion for those who have found themselves in our nation’s jails and prisons. Because, as I’ve discovered, there is not very much that separates us from the millions of Americans who are currently spending time behind bars.
Are there any books you are reading right now?
I am currently reading “The New Jim Crow” written by Michelle Alexander. This book talks about prison reform and I would recommend it to people. I also read a book over the summer called, “Humankind” which was written by Rutger Bregman. This book hits on the reality of humankind and gives a new perspective on how society views humans as “bad.” This book gives examples such as the real-life Lord of the Flies to help portray why we shouldn’t think the worst of people because that’s not how we are hardwired. I would recommend this book to everyone as well.
#What book or books had the most impact on you and your personal development?
“Shiloh” written by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor would be a book that I would say impacted my development. When I was writing my first and now second books I stayed away from reading other books in order to make sure my own thoughts weren’t swayed by what I would read from someone else; also to protect my voice and my story. This book I remember reading as a kid and it is funny how it happened to be so similar to my first book Craig & Fred in the aspect of rescuing a dog.
What are 3 “Good to Know” facts about you?
1. I was a bad student in school. I barely graduated high school. This was probably due to the fact my teachers knew I was joining the military. I say this to inspire young people at my talks and book promotions that you can be better than you were, and you can be successful even if you weren’t the best at school.
2. I am addicted to all things Toyota. I have a Toyota truck that we use to travel and enjoy the outdoors with. I like to tie this into my writing and people who read my books can definitely see how much I enjoy my truck.
3. Fred is actually my first dog. Growing up I used to ask my parents if I could have a dog, but they never let me. I even bought a leash with my own money and volunteered to walk the dogs around my neighborhood, which then backfired because my parents took that as me not needing a dog because I was taking care of other dogs.
Did you experience any surprises during your writing journey?
When I first started writing Craig & Fred, I was naive to the publishing process. I knew that I wanted to tell our story and I just started writing. I learned that you have to be an advocate for your own words and stick to your guns about things you want to portray. There is a lot of freedom when it comes to writing your own book. You are open to do you and tell your story. It is very important to have a good, strong team of publishers and an agent to help you along the way. I would tell people to just do it, write their story.
What is next for you and your writing projects?
I have my second book Second Chances that was released on April 13th. I will be promoting that book for a little bit, but I have learned not to dwell on it for too long, and start working towards the next step. I am throwing around ideas for a third book with Fred. I hope to talk about the divide in the country in hopes to unite people again. I am hoping to use Fred to help in the process of a third book as well.
Any additional words or anything else you would like to talk about/include?
I hope people read Second Chances with an open heart and an open mind. A lot of these men imprisoned were raised in poverty and less privileged areas. They don’t have a lot of the same opportunities and I hope that this book will help change the way society views them and help reintegrate them back into society.
Craig Grossi was raised in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, DC. He is a Marine Corps veteran, recipient of the Purple Heart, and Georgetown University graduate. When Craig not traveling with Fred, he devotes his time to veteran organizations including the USA Warriors Ice Hockey Program and other nonprofits that benefit dogs and veterans. He now lives in Maine with his partner Nora, and their dogs Fred and Ruby.