Margarita serves in the Air Force National Guard where “the sky is the limit.” In 2018 she adopted a Chihuahua mix, aptly named Sky, from Blount County Animal Center.
Sky joins the Guardsman, her husband – a veteran as well – and the rest of their four-legged pack. Margarita tells their tale.
Born to serve
I was born and raised in a small eastern European country. My father served in the Air Force. I grew up surrounded by airplanes and men in uniforms.
I always loved military mentality, lifestyle and the smell of jet fuel on my dad’s flight suit.
I guess I can say I was born with military in my DNA. However, where I come from, women do not serve in the military. Growing up, I wished to be a flight attendant. That is the closest a girl from my country could get to airplanes and uniforms.
When I came to the U.S. in 2013, I started noticing women in uniform. I admired them. They all were like Wonder Women to me, someone I could only dream to be.
I mean, I am not from here. I am not good, smart, strong enough – those were torturing, annoying thoughts.
One day I heard of Air National Guard and bingo! my eyes were open. I viewed it as a “part-time military” at the time. I put all my fears away and scheduled a meeting with a recruiter.
It was a very Merry Christmas
Oh what a journey it was! One of the hardest things I’ve done in my life. Starting with ASVAB test which made no sense to my European brain (five years later, I still think in metric and Celsius) and long, exhausting background investigation, I finally received my basic training dates.
Eight-week long training at Lackland Air Force Base (AFB), Texas was intense, mentally and physically challenging, but I was ecstatic to finally be there.
While most fellow trainees missed home, family and their normal lifestyle, I would get chills of excitement with every new day and accomplishment.
I felt like I was living in an American movie and couldn’t wait to tell my friends and family about this amazing experience.
Finally, my flight graduated on Christmas day with numerous honors. On top of that, I received my certificate of naturalization and became a proud American citizen on the same day.
The making of a leader
A lot of great things happened in the next two years.
By the end of basic military training I knew military was where I belonged. I worked really hard; my eagerness and dedication did not go unnoticed, and it wasn’t long before I was hired for a full-time position with Kentucky Air National Guard.
Sooner than I realized, I was getting close to the promotion time, and the last thing I had to accomplish before then was to attend Airman Leadership School (ALS) at McGhee Tyson AFB, Tennessee.
ALS program is designed to develop airmen into effective supervisors and focuses on developing leadership abilities, the profession of arms, responsibility and effective communication. It was a great 24-day course with 14 amazing classmates from all over the U.S.
A big part of our ALS course was taking an additional duty and staying responsible for it during the training period. Someone was assigned to be a physical training monitor, someone became an after class study coordinator.
I was responsible for making sure my class performs volunteer work at a local community. I offered helping out at a local Blount animal shelter, and my class enthusiastically agreed.
The eyes have it
It was a beautiful, sunny September day.
We all pitched in and bought plenty of dog [and] cat food, treats and toys for our new little friends. All day we played and wrestled with dogs outside, held cats, gave baths, cleaned and scrubbed the facility.
The staff was so amazing. They told us about the shelter, about volunteering, and about [the] Pets for Patriots program.
It was late afternoon; all dogs were tired, cats were purring, every little shelter resident got plenty of hugs and treats. We took a group picture and said goodbyes to the staff and other volunteers – in those few hours, we became a family.
I was stepping out the door when a tiny little creature caught my eye. I had to look closer to realize it’s a dog, an itty bitty skinny terrier with enormous ears. I couldn’t take my eyes off her.
Another volunteer told me she was surrendered by her owner. Due to malnutrition and neglect she completely lost her coat, several teeth and weighed just a little over four pounds – her tiny bones were showing through leathery skin.
I’ve never seen eyes more sad. I couldn’t get little sad Sky out of my head.
At night, I teared up in my dorm room thinking how scared that tiny heart is right now, in a dark crate, feeling alone and abandoned. I already had two happy pups waiting for me at home, and I had no thoughts of adopting more animals.
But Sky’s sad eyes wouldn’t leave me alone.
For the love of shelter pets
As soon as my class was over the next day, I went back to the animal shelter to meet Sky. I had to see her one more time.
I found her in the arms of a volunteer (those people are true heroes), because [the] poor girl wouldn’t stop shaking. She needed to feel human affection, otherwise, they feared, her tiny heart might give up.
I sat next to the volunteer lady, and Sky, all four pounds of skin and bones, crawled into my lap. That moment I knew I won’t be going home to Kentucky without this little treasure. If my heart and home was big enough for two dogs, there was more than enough space for this sweet girl.
Graduation was 10 days away, studying got intense, but I visited Sky almost every day – even if only for 30 minutes. I’d bring her (and other pups and cats) bags of good food and treats. Sky would not want to leave my lap and it was heartbreaking to leave her every time.
I got in touch with Pets for Patriots.
Sky was a special needs dog because of her health condition and dental problems caused by malnutrition and neglect. The more I learned about the program, the more I loved their mission.
I wanted to adopt her through Pets for Patriots so both of us – Sky and I – could share our story and be advocates for pets still looking for their forever home.
September 26th of 2018 was a special day. Not only I graduated from Airman Leadership School, but I finally picked up Sky from the shelter and we headed home to Kentucky.
Even four hours on the road showed a dramatic difference. She explored the car, looked outside the window and for the first time I noticed how long her cute little tail is – it was always tucked in when I visited her at the shelter.
My English Mastiff Reese and Yorkie mix Schatzi were quite surprised when their “hooman mom” showed up home with a new baby, but they accepted her right away. It was so sweet to watch them all wrestle and cuddle.
Sky is the limit
I was worried Sky will have a lot of behavior problems related to her past – it could’ve been anything. She did shake and whimper in her sleep. She did not enjoy her food – she’d simply inhale it with a few bites in a fear it will be taken from her.
And the saddest thing – she did not believe she is at her forever home. While Reese and Schatzi would be ecstatic to meet me home after work, Sky would just lay in her little bed and watch them happily jump around me. Her little heart was broken by humans before, and she was afraid to love again.
Just in a few months Sky dramatically changed.
She gained weight quickly – I gave her only the best food. She learned to enjoy it; the variety of treats amazed her.
Today she is seven lbs and perfectly healthy! Her coat grew back – she is so fuzzy, prickly and funny. She stopped whimpering in her sleep – but now she barks when she wants to play with the Yorkie sister or when she teases her Mastiff brother.
Sky is the sweetest, most loved and loving, the happiest doggy there is – and now she is the first one to greet me at the door!
What I love most about Sky is something we have in common.
We both are stubborn, resilient and we are way stronger than we appear. We did not give up when the times got rough – we kept pressing on.
If you believe in yourself and refuse to give up, eventually your dreams will be within your reach. Be patient, be strong, and never quit. As we say in the Air Force – aim high; sky is the limit!