Fate drew Angela to a long and distinguished career in the Army. Finding fulfilling work in the civilian world after her military retirement took many years.
At the same time, the Army veteran coped with physical and emotional pain from her time in service, which included four tours in Iraq.
Angela’s loyal canine companion Auburn was by her side throughout it all. His death left a hole in her heart that she thought could never be filled. But a happy-go-lucky dog in need of a home for the second time helped her heal in more ways than one.
Angela grew up in a large family in Birmingham, Alabama. At the time it was customary for students to take the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) before graduating from high school. The exam measures one’s potential for success in the military.
Angela admits that she refused to take the aptitude test seriously. She simply selected answers to the questions at random.
“I finished that test in five minutes because I had no intentions of going in the military,” she says.
The high school student was, in fact, quite gifted and received a full academic scholarship to a prestigious university. She skipped her classes often, but still managed to get good grades. The tide eventually turned when she took a midterm for her sociology class and “didn’t know a thing on it.”
The professor chided her for not attending lectures, and Angela felt she was at a crossroads.
“I was a little depressed, so I went downtown to buy some sneakers,” she shares. “It was shoe therapy for me.”
However, a chance encounter with a stranger would end up turning an impromptu shopping trip into something so much more.
“The best decision you ever make”
A poster of an F-15 fighter jet caught Angela’s eye while she was parking her car. She crossed the street to take a closer look and saw that the building was actually a military recruiting office.
The dispirited college student was staring blankly at the poster when a man approached her. He had a beard, wore his hair long, and donned a green seventies-era Army jacket.
“We made eye contact, and he said to me, ‘It will be the best decision you ever make.’ I thought, ‘Yeah, right,’ and looked back at the poster.”
When she looked away from the poster again, a recruiter from each of the service branches was standing in the doorway. One of them invited her to come in and talk.
“I told him, ‘I’m not interested. I just wanted to look at this poster,’ and he said, ‘It will be the best decision you ever make.’”
Angela was incredulous and told him, “That’s what that other guy just said.”
The recruiter looked at her quizzically. She recounted the conversation she had with the stranger just moments earlier.
“The recruiter told me, ‘I watched you drive up. I watched you parallel park your car. I watched you get out of the car and cross the street. No one else passed on this sidewalk.’”
Angela insisted she had talked to an older man who encouraged her to join the military, but the recruiters all agreed that they had not seen anyone else in the vicinity. She began to think that this apparition would lead her to her fate.
“I thought to myself, ‘Maybe I do need to go in and talk to these guys because this is too strange.'”
Touched by an angel
Angela went inside and took the ASVAB for the second time in her life. She only got one question wrong, and the recruiters were eager to make a pitch for their respective branches.
The teenager could not swim and did not like water, so she immediately ruled out the Navy and Marine Corps. She just as quickly steered away from the Air Force, which drafted several of her brothers during the Vietnam War.
“I’m the youngest of fourteen children, and I didn’t want to follow in their footsteps anymore,” she says. “I wanted to do my own thing.”
On July 7, 1982, Angela – who never wanted anything to do with military service – enlisted in the Army. She credits divine intervention for illustrating a clear path for her and guiding her towards her fate.
“It was my first contact with an angel. There’s no other explanation for it,” she claims. “I truly believe that because every day I put that uniform on, I felt like it was exactly where I was supposed to be.”
A soldier with major goals
Initially, Angela’s military occupational specialty (MOS) was 75D, Army Personnel Records Specialist. It has since been merged with other MOS and is now 42A.
The young recruit worked hard and was soon awarded the 25 Series MOS after completing her college degree in computer science. That group of jobs includes roles that provide communication support across a variety of technological methods.
Angela was an ambitious young soldier who continued to learn and grow throughout her career. She had lofty goals for someone who once intentionally tanked the ASVAB to avoid military service.
“I knew I wanted to be a command sergeant major, so I looked at all the specialties that would take you to E-9 rank, and 71 Lima was one of them, so I took that route.”
Angela remained steadfast on her path and honed her skills as an Army administrative specialist. In her 17th year of service she was promoted to command sergeant major (CSM) and awarded the prestigious “double oh zulu” (00Z) MOS.
The CSM is the senior noncommissioned officer (NCO) and is the bridge between enlisted soldiers and their commanders.
In this distinguished role, Angela was responsible for the health, discipline, morale, and welfare of the troops in her command.
Multiple deployments take their toll
Deployments during the Global War on Terror often lasted longer and occurred more frequently than in past American wars. This tempo contributed to higher rates of mood and trauma disorders such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression, and anxiety.
Angela was not exempt from deployment stress. She served four tours in Iraq from 2003 to 2006. By the fourth deployment, war had taken a significant toll on her physical and emotional well being.
“It was just exhausting. It definitely changed me,” she confides. “I can remember thinking when I got back, ‘Nah, I don’t have PTSD.’ I was in denial for a while.”
PTSD symptoms and severity can vary widely among affected individuals. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to diagnosis or treatment.
“I eventually realized that PTSD comes in so many different forms that I had it, but didn’t believe it because I wasn’t displaying the same types of symptoms that some of my soldiers were.”
When Angela returned from her final deployment to Iraq she needed to make a decision about her next CSM assignment. She did not want to deploy again, but it would likely be unavoidable if she stayed in the Army.
On the other hand, military service was all she knew.
“I don’t know anything else. I’ve been in the military my entire life. What else would I do?” she asks aloud. “I wasn’t getting any answers from the Lord, so I just hung in there.”
Fate weighs in once more
Angela resisted the urge to retire, unsure of what her path beyond the Army would look like. However, divine intervention stepped in once again after a stressful day of dealing with some particularly irksome personnel issues.
“Just like when I went in, G-d let me know when it was time to get out.”
In October 2006, after 24 years of dedicated service, Angela retired from the only career she had ever known. Fate led her to more than two decades of doing exactly what she was meant to do.
“I truly loved it,” she shares. “It’s so hard to explain the feelings and emotions I had every single day just putting that uniform on and the love I had for what I was doing.”
The newly retired veteran moved back to Alabama and opted not to return to the workforce right away. She had surgery and spent a year recuperating from the physical and emotional stresses associated with military life.
Eventually Angela decided to move out West. She was feeling better, but detested the rain in Alabama and was getting antsy in retirement. She took a job at a software development company in Arizona.
Within a year the Army veteran realized that the job was not for her.
The soldiers Angela worked with for 24 years displayed discipline that was severely lacking at her new employer. She could not understand the unenthusiastic and halfhearted manner in which her coworkers and subordinates approached their jobs.
“I couldn’t do it. The staff didn’t come to work on time,” she recalls in frustration. “They didn’t stay until the work was finished.”
A bridge not too far
Angela left that job and contemplated retiring for good. Even though her Shih Tzu puppy, Auburn, was there to keep her company, she could not just sit at home.
“Being retired is not for me. I was bored out of my mind,” she confides. “But at the same time, finding the right fit in the civilian world was difficult.”
As luck would have it, the Army veteran’s next job found her. It was as if her guardian angel was still guiding her towards her fate.
Angela received a call about an open position with a local university’s Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program. The work was less challenging than she would have liked, but for many years the job served a higher purpose. It helped Angela finally make the transition from service to civilian life.
“It was a good bridge between the military and civilian world for me.”
Angela stayed in that role for several years before finding her current job as the director of operations for a small dental supply company. Her work is satisfying and she has good relationships with her coworkers.
“I love it. I have fun coming to work every day. It’s like being a CSM in the civilian workforce,” she says.
The eyes have it
Just as Angela’s post-military career finally began to flourish, her faithful canine companion’s health diminished. In November 2020, Auburn passed away shortly before his 13th birthday. The veteran was grief-stricken.
“It really broke my heart.”
Angela was lonely and depressed after Auburn’s death. She started searching online for adoptable pets. Although she was not ready yet, she knew that she would eventually adopt another dog.
In December 2020 Angela stumbled upon the online profile of a then five year-old Chihuahua mix. Angela was mesmerized by Norman’s soulful beauty.
“His eyes drew me in,” she recalls. “He had the prettiest golden colored eyes I’d ever seen.”
Norman was in the care of the HALO PetSmart Charities Everyday Pet Adoption Center. This satellite shelter and its main facility offer veterans in our program reduced adoption fees when they save eligible dogs and cats.
Shortly after discovering Norman, Angela learned about Pets for Patriots in a monthly soldier email newsletter. The Iraq war veteran immediately fell in love with our mission to help find homes for the most overlooked shelter pets.
Angela began the application process after reading that it could take three to four months to get approval. It turned out to be far less involved than the article suggested – just a matter of days, in fact.
“The process was actually easy and quick for me. I just had to answer a few questions and send a copy of my DD214.”
The only outstanding question was whether Norman would still be available when Angela decided the time was right. She did not want to rush into a decision because she believes that adopting a pet is for life.
Grieving the loss of a pet cannot be forced or hurried, and there is no normal timetable. The process is a highly individual one, as is the decision around if and when to welcome a new pet.
The dog who picked his own name
The following summer Angela felt her heart had healed enough to open her home to a furry companion once again. As fate would have it, Norman was waiting at the shelter for the perfect person to come for him.
“When I went in July he was still there.”
That Norman was still homeless was bittersweet. On one hand, it meant Angela could adopt him right away. On the other hand, it had been seven months since Angela first saw his profile. That is a long time for a dog to live in a shelter.
While Norma’s full story is unclear, he was adopted from HALO as a puppy. At some point he was surrendered back to the same shelter for unknown reasons.
Angela was warned that Norman had some dominant traits, but that did not deter her. The retired Army veteran was committed to the training he would need to fit in around her home.
So on July 1, 2021, Angela adopted the Chihuahua with the mesmerizing eyes. The veteran’s biggest concern at the time was that Norman might not really care for his given name. They set about finding him a new one right away.
“When I got him home, he wouldn’t even look at me when I called him Norman,” she recalls.
Angela rattled off a bunch of names, but the small pup did not respond to any of them.
“Then I asked, ‘What about Frankie?’ and he thumped his tail. I asked him, ‘Oh, you like Frankie?’ and he thumped his tail twice.”
The veteran called out 20 to 30 more names, but none of them elicited a reaction.
“I asked, ‘Okay, so you’re leaning toward Frankie?’ and he got up and came toward me.”
It was decided. Frankie is the dog who got to pick his own name.
Four-legged exercise partner
Once home, Frankie transitioned out of shelter life and into home life better than Angela anticipated. The veteran was diligent about following the shelter’s recommendations that were based upon Frankie’s behavioral assessment.
To combat his dominance, he was not allowed on the furniture. The newly adopted pair attended six months of training classes together. One of the most valuable skills Frankie learned was how to walk on a leash without pulling.
That simple piece of obedience has helped Angela resume a regular fitness routine. The demands of military service took a toll on her body and mind, and she often made excuses to avoid exercise.
However, the Army veteran quickly discovered that walking with Frankie actually alleviates some of her ailments – physical and emotional.
“For a while I had serious pain management issues,” she explains, “but he’s gotten me back to moving and now my pain is not as bad.”
Frankie is a high energy dog and needs ample daily exercise to tire him out. The couple walks at least five miles every day.
“He’s made me more active. I don’t use the excuse that my knees or back are hurting anymore.”
The little Italian
Over the summer, Angela brought Frankie to Martha’s Vineyard where they vacationed with her daughter and grandchildren. A chance encounter on one of their daily walks led to an interesting discovery.
That day, an excited passerby commented on Angela’s Cirneco dell’Etna. The veteran was confused, but intrigued. The woman went on to explain that the dog Angela believed to be a Chihuahua mix was more than likely a Cirneco dell’Etna mix.
“When I got back home I looked it up online, and he looks exactly like that,” Angela says. “He has the same dimples when he smiles and the ears look exactly the same.”
The Cirneco dell’Etna is an Italian breed of hunting dog that originated on the Mediterranean island of Sicily. It is named after the famous Mount Etna volcano there.
As it turns out, Frankie is about 80 percent Cirneco dell’Etna and only about five percent Chihuahua. Regardless of his breed composition Angela believes he is 100 percent a “happy little guy.”
Frankie’s spirited demeanor is what brings Angela the most joy.
“His tail is constantly wagging. The only time he’s not grinning and wagging his tail is when he’s sleeping.”
The retired Army veteran admits she is prone to feeling down on occasion. It is during those times that Frankie is most eager to work his magic.
“When I’m having a moment he comes over and lays his head in my lap and puts his paws up on me,” she shares. “You can’t help but smile when you look at him and see him grinning.”
Angela even brings Frankie to work with her. The happy pup is widely beloved in the office. He greets people as they arrive in the morning and makes the rounds when he wants treats. His job there is simply to make everyone smile – and he is great at his job.
“We call it Frankie Therapy. He just goes around and spreads joy to everyone.”