A black puppy decked out in a red, white and blue bandanna jumped out of his crate and wagged his tail at the airport Monday, three flights and two days after leaving Iraq en route to his new home with a U.S. soldier.

Army Spc. Gwen Beberg of Minneapolis says she couldn't have made it through her 13-month deployment without Ratchet, who she and another soldier rescued from a burning pile of trash in May. Ratchet, wearing a dog-bone-shaped collar with its name, will spend two nights in a kennel before flying to Minneapolis, where Beberg's parents will pick him up. Beberg is scheduled to return home next month.

"I'm very excited that Ratchet will be waiting for me when I get home from Iraq! Words can't describe it," Beberg said in an e-mail to friends and family. "I hope that Ratchet's story will inspire people to continue the efforts to bring more service members' animals home from Iraq and Afghanistan."

The dog was rescued by Baghdad Pups, run by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals International. The group, which has now brought 63 animals to the U.S., says the effort both saves dogs and cats and helps soldiers who benefit from the bond with the animals.

The military bars troops from caring for pets while on duty or taking them home, citing reasons such as health issues and difficulties in caring for the animals. The military didn't prevent Ratchet from leaving but said it wouldn't be responsible for transportation.

Baghdad Pups coordinator Terri Crisp, who brought the puppy back from Iraq, said animals adopted by soldiers help them get through difficult times.

"I hope Ratchet and his story will lead to some dialogue with the military," Crisp said as she stroked the puppy.

Ratchet flew on a charter flight to Kuwait, then flew commercial from Kuwait to Amsterdam and on to Washington. Eagan, Minn.-based Northwest Airlines picked up the cost of the last two legs.

Ratchet frolicked on a grassy patch outside the airport before heading off to Clocktower Animal Hospital in Herndon, Va., for a checkup and some shots.

"Your tail's wagging!" said Dr. Chris Carskaddan, the veterinarian, as he greeted the dog. "So cute."

Ratchet didn't bark at all, but let out a whimper during the shots. Afterward, Carskaddan declared the dog "extremely healthy."