STRATTON AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, N.Y. - When Staff Sgt. John Cox, an air transportation specialist assigned to the 109th Airlift Wing, deployed to Aguadilla, Puerto Rico, Oct. 9, he assumed he would be helping the local people recover from Hurricane Maria; he did not expect to bring home a four-legged addition to his family.
Cox said he had just come off a six-month deployment in Kuwait when he volunteered to go to Puerto Rico where he worked with heavy machinery loading and unloading cargo from aircraft.
"We were placed close to the airport in tents in an open field so we could hear the aircraft when they landed," said Cox.
"Our main job was assisting Department of Defense personnel unload water and Meals Ready to Eat (MREs), from aircraft and load them onto vehicles and small aircraft for distribution to the people hit hard by the hurricane," said Cox.
While Cox was performing a security check of the area, he came across an abandoned building; once inside he said he discovered a scared, emaciated, light-brown dog.
"I brought the dog some beef jerky from an MRE and some water every day, and pretty soon she started following me back to my tent and waiting outside," said Cox.
When the dog started following Cox to work every day he worried he would get into trouble and decided he should talk to the officer in charge.
Once he introduced her to leadership he was given a thumbs-up to having her by his side.
"That's when I realized I couldn't leave this dog in Puerto Rico when my deployment ended," said Cox.
"I drove over an hour to a veterinary clinic and had the dog completely checked and vaccinated, which was a condition I was given to keep her with me," he said.
Cox said the next hurdle was to find a way to get the dog he named Maria home, which would prove to be no easy feat because he couldn't just put her on the aircraft without authorization.
"I researched all the regulations I could find and felt like I hit a wall until I found a local adoption agency that specialized in rescuing pit bulls," said Cox. "They were able to get her home."
"I not only made a positive impact on the people of Puerto Rico, but I was able to save an animal," said Cox. "I saw her go from near-death to super healthy in a matter of months."
He said he is looking forward to hiking the high peaks with his new hiking buddy, once the weather is better.
"My advice to someone who plans on adopting a dog is to prepare to have your hands and your heart full," said Cox. "Having a dog is sometimes like having a child, but all the effort will be worth it when you see them waiting for you at the end of the day."