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From the zoo, to Missouri Air National Guard blue

Casey Self, zoologist and 131st Bomb Wing Citizen-Airman, works with hippos ‘Liberty’ and ‘Labor Day’ in the Ruwenzori section of the Kansas City Zoo in Kansas City, Mo., Aug. 9, 2013.  She utilizes hand signals, a clicker, and healthy treats to evoke certain responses, such as opening their mouths, which allow her to safely check on the dental health of the hippo. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Airman Halley Burgess/Released)

Casey Self, zoologist and 131st Bomb Wing Citizen-Airman, works with hippos ‘Liberty’ and ‘Labor Day’ in the Ruwenzori section of the Kansas City Zoo in Kansas City, Mo., Aug. 9, 2013. She utilizes hand signals, a clicker, and healthy treats to evoke certain responses, such as opening their mouths, which allow her to safely check on the dental health of the hippo. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Airman Halley Burgess/Released)

Hippopotamus ‘Liberty’ pleads for more treats from zoo keeper Casey Self in the Ruwenzori section of the Kansas City Zoo, in Kansas City, Mo., Aug. 9, 2013. Self works as a zookeeper for the Kansas City Zoo along with working for the 131st Bomb Wing, Missouri Air National Guard here at Whiteman Air Force Base. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Airman Halley Burgess/Released)

Casey Self works with hippos ‘Liberty’ and “Labor Day’ in the Ruwenzori area of the Kansas City Zoo. Here she utilizes hand signals, a clicker, and healthy treats to evoke certain responses, such as opening their mouths, which allow her to safely check on the dental health of the hippo. When not working at her civilian job as a zoo keeper, Self is a Citizen-Airman with the 131st Bomb Wing, Missouri Air National Guard, at Whiteman AFB., MO. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Airman Halley Burgess/RELEASED)

WHITEMAN AFB, Mo. -- For one Missouri National Guardsman, life as a Citizen-Airman is far from the wilds of her civilian career.

Airman Casey Self, a zookeeper at the Kansas City Zoo, joined the 131st Bomb Wing to expand her resume from taking care of animals on land and water to people in the sky as well.

"When I moved to the Kansas City area and learned more about Whiteman Air Force Base through friends stationed there, I realized that I had a great opportunity right in front of me," Self said. "That's when I decided to enlist in the Air National Guard. Serving my country and being a part of such a great team, I feel like I will help make a difference in people's lives."

Self, who enlisted as an aviation resource management technician with the 131st, has already demonstrated the potential for a long and successful career, said Tech Sgt. Jason Jones, her recruiter.

"Airman Self has shown herself to be an outstanding addition to the 131st through her strong work ethic and dedication," Jones said. "She has demonstrated leadership qualities that will be strengthened throughout her Air Force training and benefit the Missouri Air National Guard for years to come."

A native of Illinois, Self said she knew from a young age she wanted to spend her life working with animals.

"It wasn't until I started to study applied animal behavior that I realized that I wanted to be an animal trainer," Self said. "In the zoo world the zookeepers are the animal trainers so that's why I decided to pursue a career in zoo keeping."

She graduated from the University of Illinois in 2009 with a degree in animal science. From there, Self began a series of internships and jobs that moved her around the country to gain experience. Almost a year ago, she accepted a position at the Kansas City Zoo.

The new job came with a lot of responsibility.

"My responsibilities as a zookeeper encompass everything that has to do with the welfare of the animals in my section, which is the Ruwenzori area," Self said. "We are responsible for the section of the African exhibits that house the chimpanzees, hippos, leopard tortoises, African wild dogs, baboons and slender snouted crocodiles."

While Self's dream was to work with animals, she had another goal: to serve her country. Self said she has wanted to serve since she was a child, and participated in Junior ROTC during high school. She considered enlisting during her senior year, but ultimately decided to take another path.

The years spent working in her current civilian career field will make her a better, more responsible Airman, Self said. Though her specific civilian job responsibilities may seem far out of the realm of military tasks, Self said the environment she works in has prepared her well for her duties as a Citizen Airman.

"My job in the Air National Guard will be aviation resources management where I will be supporting the pilots to fly the B-2s," Self said. "We have a very labor-intensive, fast-paced, high-tempo job that is also very rewarding."

Going from the zoo to Missouri Air National Guard blue, Self's story is a testament to never giving up on a dream. She is currently awaiting dates for basic training and technical school, and is excited for the challenges ahead of her.

"I'm thankful for the flexibility that being in the Air National Guard provides for reaching all of my career goals," Self said. "I feel like everything has fallen into place and this is where I have always wanted to be."