Every dog has its day... in Africa

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Natasha Stannard
  • U.S. Air Forces Africa Public Affairs
Due to the nature of the job, traveling away from family is a difficulty military members face. For one U.S. Air Forces in Europe Airman traveling afar is a bit less cumbersome thanks to her lap-sized travel companion, Lola, the toy dog.

Captain Shana Serrano is supporting U.S. Air Forces in Africa for the first African Partnership Flight in Accra, Ghana as an French and English language interpreter. Her presence here enables the exchange of ideas and techniques to flow between Air Forces from the U.S., Ghana, Nigeria, Benin, Togo and Senegal for the two-week partnership building and capability strengthening event.

While traveling to Africa took the single mom away from her son and daughter, the unique experience to share techniques and learn from the other Air Forces involved in APF 12-2 was something she said she couldn't pass up.

So on March 7, she packed her bags for her first African journey. Unbeknownst to her, someone else packed her bags as well.

"My daughter , Olga, put Lola in my suitcase," she said of her stuffed Boxer. "I almost took her out, but thought, no Olga put her in so I will take pictures with her everywhere. I know when I get home my daughter and I will look through the photos together."

A few days after her boots hit the ground and she got to know her fellow air forces a little better she took Lola out for her first walk in Africa to do what she set out to do, take pictures everywhere and with just about everyone.

As soon as Lola stepped on the scene at APF 12-2 she helped to accomplish the purpose of the event, to build partnerships as the six Air Forces rushed together to pose for a few pictures with the stuffed toy pooch.

"I want to take a picture with her," said Sgt. Patience Etuk, Nigerian air force headquarters director of training secretary, as Serrano walked by with the pup."It's great that she brought [the dog]."

Lola served not only as a great icebreaker for Serrano to get to know her fellow air force comrades participating in the APF, but also as a comfort that she said makes her feel closer to family and home.

Serrano explained that Lola reminds her of her family as the puppy has helped them get through tough times before.

Serrano said that Lola kept her at ease when her mother, Barbara, was hospitalized in 2004 by keeping Barbara company when the family couldn't be around. It comforted her mother because before Lola the stuffed animal came along there was Lola the dog. Her mother never met Lola the dog, but had many photos of Serrano and Lola, which made Serrano think her mother would enjoy having the stuffed animal. Serrano's mother did enjoy having her as Lola stayed by Barbara's side throughout the hospitalization until she passed away Oct. 3, 2004.

Because Lola was there on that day, Serrano said Lola reminds her of her mother and makes her feel as though her mother is on these journeys with her.

Lola was not only there for the passing of a family member, but to welcome a new one as Serrano's daughter, who put Lola in the suitcase, was welcomed into the world about a year later. Because Lola was there for Serrano through her pregnancy and for her daughter's birth, Lola also reminds Serrano of her daughter.

For Serrano, Lola has been with her family through it all and now she's doing it in Africa by serving as Serrano's constant reminder of home. Keeping together the bonds Serrano holds with her family, and building new bonds with her western African partners in arms.