LUMBERTON, N.J. – The month leading up to Staff Sgt. Dannielle Garcia’s deployment was a somber one. First, her dog Pepper was diagnosed with a brain tumor, then she made the tough decision to euthanize her beloved pet before leaving for Kuwait in 2018.
Garcia, who is a registered nurse, is also an emergency management specialist with the New Jersey Air National Guard’s 108th Civil Engineer Squadron. She was deploying to support Airmen and Soldiers with instruction in chemical, radiological and biological threats.
She reflected on those painful weeks before leaving.
“It was like losing a part of me, and at the same time putting her down before I was deployed was a bittersweet moment because I got the chance to be with her, and comfort her, and be in her last moments before going away,” said Garcia.
Garcia went overseas for a six-month rotation, assigned to a base in an arid region of Kuwait.
“You would see stray animals everywhere, mostly dogs,” said Garcia.
“One day we were driving back to my shop, and we saw this little skinny tan dog run across the street. Two days later, a friend of mine texted me, saying pest management caught a dog, and the pest management building is right next to mine. So I just ran outside, and I saw her, and I was like, ‘that’s the dog I saw!’”
Because of the remote location of the base, veterinary services were not readily available, so the decision was made to care for the animals until they could be shipped elsewhere.
Garcia began volunteering in her time off to care for the skinny tan dog, who she started calling Mina, as well as a male dog that was also caught on the installation. As she spent more time with Mina, she realized she was developing a bond with the animal.
“I guess jokingly I was saying, ‘oh I just want to take her home’, and Tech. Sgt. Dorsey, who was part of pest management there, she said there is a way, and people have done it,” said Garcia.
Garcia was put in touch with the staff at The Puppy Rescue Mission, an organization that assists deployed service members with bringing dogs and cats back to the United States.
The process was not easy, since shots and shipping can be in the thousands of dollars, and in the meantime, Mina had to be fostered off-base by an expatriate American couple.
“Around November  I had the application for Puppy Rescue Mission. I filled out everything, her whole story, how I met her, got all the paperwork done, and I was finally able to ship her. My family received her around January 16th, so she was here before I was,” said Garcia.
Garcia was elated to have Mina home but felt bad bringing a dog that was from the desert back to New Jersey in the winter. Mina has a small selection of dog jackets to fend off the cold weather.
“She’s so gentle and so sweet, and when we found her, she was by herself,” said Garcia.
Mina isn’t alone anymore, now living with Garcia and her family in New Jersey.
“I feel privileged to have her,” said Garcia. “She’s the best thing that happened on my deployment.”