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Champions of Valor and Courage

By Gloria Romano-Barrera

Excellence, devotion to duty, selfless service, commitment, respect, honor, courage and loyalty are only a few qualities these strong Latinas from the many branches of the Armed Forces – active and civilian – have in common. LATINA Style is committed to distinguishing stellar examples of Latinas who are committed 100 percent to the mission of their branch. Here are only a few Latinas with diverse backgrounds, experiences, and strengths that help achieve incredible goals in the Armed Forces.

Mendoza foresees Latinas as a major part of an increasingly diverse and innovative workforce, and as a Latina the mark she hopes to level is “an organization whose culture is one of compassion, respect, professionalism, inclusiveness, and provides open ended opportunity for anyone with the drive and commitment to excel.”

Master Sergeant Patricia M Font U.S.

U.S. Army
MSG Patricia M Font

Master Sergeant Patricia M. Font entered active duty in 1996. She deployed to Bogota, Columbia, in support of Southern Command and successfully awarded over 65 contract actions in excess of $1.8 million. Her expert negotiation skills resulted in a savings of over $100,000. She volunteered to assist with humanitarian projects to build schools and other community improvement initiatives which directly led to improved quality of life for the local populace. While deployed she supported over 1,000 personnel assigned to the Department of Defense, Department of State, and Local Nationals assigned to the U.S. Embassy.

MSG Font’s assignments include HQ 159th Aviation Brigade, Fort Bragg North Carolina; Tripler Army Medical Center, Honolulu, Hawaii; HHC 1st Infantry Division, Fort Riley, Kansas; 410th Contracting Support Brigade, San Antonio, TX; and the Mission Installation Contracting Command, Fort Lee, VA. She has deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), and Bogota, Colombia in Support of the counter-drug, peacekeeping, humanitarian contracting mission.

Kristan Mendoza

U.S. Army
Kristan Mendoza U.S. Army

“As a 34-year career Department of the Army Civilian, I have a deep sense of loyalty, appreciation, and gratitude for our U.S. service members,” states Kristan Mendoza. “I feel honored to be able to support the soldiers as they perform their mission.”

Starting her career as a summer hire during her first year of community college, she set foot into the contracting/procurement career field. Today, as the Civilian Deputy Director for the Army Contracting Command – Rock Island (ACC-RI), Mendoza oversees all aspects of the operations of a major contracting center comprising 600 personnel in the execution of over $12 billion in contracting actions last fiscal year.

Recognizing the value of diversity, Mendoza is a member of Barrier Analysis Working Group and Hispanic Advisory Committee. She has been an advocate for wounded warriors in the organization and the community, meeting with community leaders to advance the cause of ensuring opportunities and advancement for those who have courageously served our country in the Armed Forces.

Mimi A. Azcarraga

U.S. Army
Mimi A. Azcarraga U.S. Army
“I entered the federal government service in 1984 originally with the U.S. Air Force because I wanted to be a civil servant who dedicated my service to the U.S. military and its mission,” says Mimi Azcarraga. Currently assigned to U.S. Army Europe, located in Wiesbaden, Germany, as the Chief, Employment, Compensation and Benefit Branch, G1 Civilian Personnel Directorate, she has distinguished herself as an expert Supervisory Human Resources Specialist, and is responsible for providing policy and guidance on overseas employment, compensation and benefits to all Army in Europe organizations.
Born of Panamanian and Spanish heritage, Azcarraga began her civil service career at 18 years old. For Azcarraga, working for a military department that protects the nation is a rewarding and fulfilling career and the best part of her job is helping others. “While my current job in human resources is not on the Army battlefront, my team and myself do everything that we can to support the civilian workforce (U.S. and Local Nationals) so they can do their job to support the military and its mission,” she explains.

Today, she contributes to the Latino community by sharing her stories and providing helpful information to those Latinos/Latinas who are coming up the ranks. “Latinas will continue to rise to higher grades and salaries in the workforce as they continue to educate themselves and make themselves more marketable than the other minority groups,” she states.

Leticia Ruiz

U.S. Army
Leticia Ruiz U.S. Army

Working on the fields with her family during her childhood years, Leticia Ruiz had to make a decisionforabetterfuture.

BorninBrownsfield, Texas, Ruiz enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1980 and retired from active duty in 2007. After retiring from active duty, Ruiz then joined the Army Civilian Corps and is currently serving as the U.S. Army Master Resilience School Training Technician.
Ruiz knew the military service was for her after she completing her first three years in
Pirmasens, Germany. “I finally realized that the Army was about what I made of it and what I wanted to accomplish,” she shares.

Overall, she has developed 100 percent confidence in her own abilities “I’ve learned that “women can be all that we can be if only we put our minds to be and no matter who says we can’t do this or do that we truly can. I had the privilege of working alongside some of the most educated, disciplined and motivated Latinas in the Army in my 23 years of active duty. Don’t let obstacles stop or interfere with your short or long term goals in life, there is a bumper sticker out there that reads, “One Life so Live it””.

Lieutenant Commander Monica E. González

U.S. Navy
Lieutenant Commander Monica E. González U.S. Navy
Puerto Rican born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, LCDR Monica E. González joined the Navy medicine team in 2009. As USN Special Assistant to the Surgeon General of the Navy, LCDR González has demonstrated commitment, courage and service to the U.S. Gonzalez decided to join the military because she wanted to take her career to a place where she could do something for others, while providing for her family.
LCDR Gonzalez’s path traces back through a healthcare career that spans 19 years. In 1995, during her junior year at Kean, she obtained an internship at Horizon Mercy Health Plan of New Jersey, which led to a full-time employment upon graduation.

In 2008, she was managing a staff of 100 people as the Billing Director for Emcare. Looking for another challenge that would allow her to continue to serve she left her private sector position and joined the U.S. Navy as a commissioned Medical Service Corps Officer in 2009.

Gonzalez manages a “Lunch and Learn” program which is a training venue for Navy Medicine staff members that allow participants to enjoy training while at work to further develop their skills. “I will also say that I am fortunate enough to work for an organization that mentors and develops its leaders, preparing them for future requirements,” she states. “The primary life lesson I have learned is how to maintain a work-family balance. I am lucky to have a chain of command that believes in this philosophy and encourages it throughout the enterprise. This is especially important as I am a single parent with two young sons that depend on me.”

Legal First Class Victoria Agosto

U.S. Navy
Legal First Class Victoria Agosto U.S. Navy
Bronx, New York native, Victoria Agosto, enlisted on October 2006 at 18 years old. Currently serving as the acting Military Justice Leading Chief Petty Officer and Entry Control Point Division Leading Chief Petty Officer for Region Legal Service Office Northwest (RLSO NW), the command that provides legal services to the third largest Fleet concentration area in the U.S. Navy, LN1(SW/AW) Agosto leads two other First Class Petty Officers and four junior Sailors in the Navy.

Leading, traveling, education, and making amazing friends are ‘perks’ she enjoys about her job. “Being a leader is one of the best parts of my job, but also the hardest,” she shares.
As for career goals, Agosto realized she wanted the Navy as a career in 2014 when she advanced to the rank of E-6. “In seven short years, I realized I finally reached a rank where I was retirement eligible,” she shares. The life lessons Agosto has learned in the military are to be patient and flexible. “At each command I have been assigned to, I would always reach out to my peers (young and old) and ask for their knowledge and wisdom on how to succeed in my career,” she states.

Petty Officer First Class Martha Moreno Madueno

U.S. Navy
Petty Officer First Class Martha Moreno Madueno U.S. Navy

Joining the military in 2001, shortly after the September 11 attacks, Petty Officer Martha Moreno Madueno was 18 years old when she enlisted. “I am a proud momma’s girl and nobody thought I would be able to handle being away from her,” she states. “I truly believe that I am training tomorrow’s leaders and this is what makes this the best job in the world.”

Moreno Madueno currently serves as a Support Equipment Instructor at the Center Naval Aviation Technical Training Unit North Island, San Diego, CA. She has been the driving force behind the training of 254 active duty staff, 12 civilians and transient students in regards to Sexual assault prevention. She successfully coordinated the 2014 Center for Naval Aviation Technical Training Unit North Island’s Navy Marine Corps Relief Society Campaign.

Feeling blessed, she believes the Navy has developed her as a leader and a mentor. “I have been blessed with strong female mentors from early on in my career,” she says. “These ladies are walking proof that females are more than capable to perform their duty and they are my inspiration.”

Staff Sergeant Geronima Cruz

U.S. Marine Corps
Staff Sergeant Geronima Cruz U.S. Marine Corps

Born in Guerrero, Mexico, SSgt Geronima Cruz enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps on January 13, 2003 and is currently serving as the Marine Aircraft Group 36 Administration Chief and Uniform Victims advocate.
“I was always fascinated about the military, but the thought of joining intimidated me,” she states. “I figured it would be a life challenge, if I could make it through the toughest military recruit training, there wouldn’t be much out there I wouldn’t be able to do. I realized I wanted to make the Marine Corps a career after my first year. I fell in love with the Marine Corps History, its heritage and the Marines to the left and right of me. The Marine Corps challenges me daily, and I continue to become a better Marine,leader and citizen because of it.”

Growing up a shy and soft spoken individual, her family was surprised when she decided to enlist. “I think they imagined me to go for a less extreme career,” she states. “My parents were very supportive of my decision to join. Thankfully I have a wonderful supporting husband that has both (mommy/daddy) roles when I am not able to physically be there. My parents sacrificed so much to ensure I would have a chance at success for that I am forever thankful.”

For Cruz, leading and mentoring Marines is the best part of her job. She believes it is her responsibility to pass on the knowledge and life experiences to ensure that they are professional developed, and sound citizens, “They are the future of this organization,” she shares.

Corporal Marisol Hernandez

U.S. Marine Corps
Corporal Marisol Hernandez U.S. Marine Corps

Born in La Labor San Alto Zacatecas, Mexico, Cpl Hernandez arrived to the United States at the age of seven and joined the Marine Corps on October, 17, 2011. She was recruited from Recruiting Station Westheimer Houston, TX and graduated boot camp on January 13, 2012. Cpl Hernandez served as the assistant warehouse chief when she was promoted to the rank of Corporal in June 2014.
“I joined the military to better myself, as a female and more than anything as a Hispanic female,” states Hernandez. “I didn’t want to fall under the stereotype of getting married young, having kids, being a stay at home wife. I wanted to go to college, do something different that I knew in the long run would better myself.”

Today she credits her family, especially her mom and nieces, for giving her the strength to blaze the trails to excel. “Everything isn’t easy in the military but you have to make it bearable and make the best of everything,” she states. “My motivation has come from them and everyone else in my family; it is true what they say, you represent your family and the Marine Corps. So to disappoint either of them would be disappointment to myself as well.”

An inspiration to many Latinas, she encourages Latinas to never give up. “Anything is possible,” she shares. “One way or another just never lose faith and know that it will be different one day, might not be tomorrow but soon enough.”

Lt. Col. Jennifer A. Suarez

U.S. Air Force
Lt. Col. Jennifer A. Suarez U.S. Air Force
Commander of the 42d Force Support Squadron, which includes 5 flights with nearly 800 military, civilian and contract employees, providing quality of life, personnel and manpower, professional development and family services programs at two separate locations for over 50,000 eligible recipients, including permanent party and TDY students attending Air University. She also manages an $18M budget and $4.2M full service food contract.

According to Suarez, all of the moral of the morale, recreation, welfare, family and personnel programs happen in Force Support. “We affectionately call ourselves the “Fun” squadron,” she says. “We take care of people from cradle to grave; we touch everyone from the youngest newborn dependent to rendering funeral honors on behalf of the oldest retiree. It’s a humbling experience to lead such a wonderful group of professionals. We wouldn’t be such a great squadron without the members (active duty, civilians and contractors) who make the mission happen daily. Also, we have great support from the group and wing leadership as well as the base and local community.”

Feeling blessed, her mom and grandmother have given her the strength to excel. “I have to thank my mom for pushing me and encouraging me to always do my best,” she shares. “The second person I credit for giving me strength is my grandmother, my father’s mom. She raised 12 children while working as a migrant worker in the Michiganfields.Theytaughtmetonevergive up regardless of how tough circumstances get and to always stay positive despite the darkest of days.”

Lieutenant Bianca Barcelo

U.S. Coast Guard
Lieutenant Bianca Barcelo U.S. Coast Guard

“Joining the military was not something I had ever considered. I had never really known anyone close to me in the military. What I did know though, from a very early age in life, was that I wanted to serve my country,” shares LT Bianca Barcelo, Direct Commission Coast Guard Lawyer (“DCL”), who has served as Judge Advocate for the Coast Guard Atlantic Area and the Legal Service Command, from August 2013 to July 2014, while also serving as the Association of Naval Service Officers (ANSO) Norfolk Chapter President. Joining the U.S. Coast Guard in July of 2011 at 27 years old, LT Barcelo has always been grateful to a nation that gave her family the opportunity to make a life for themselves. “My parents through much hard work, and perseverance started their own business,” she shares. “I have seen firsthand the possibility of the American dream.”

With passion, LT Barcelo is working on a project for the Cuban community that would help encapsulate the oral history of Cubans prior to the revolution through the exile and the stories of their lives in the United States by audio and video recording to be archived in a University.

“In a day and age like today there is a greater push for recognizing the value that different ethnicities and genders bring to organizations,” she states. “I think that there has been a greater push within the last few years to be more inclusive and I think that the door has been opened for women to create a bigger role for themselves in these organizations. I believe life is about having our own unique experiences, and with it that encompasses challenges, failures, and successes. Success goes hand in hand with failure because that is how we learn to improve.”

Dr. Gladys Brignoni

U.S. Coast Guard
Lieutenant Bianca Barcelo U.S. Coast Guard
Dr. Gladys Brignoni assumed the duties of Deputy Commander, Force Readiness Command in November 2011. In this capacity, she leads the Coast Guard workforce in gaining proficiency and preparing for operations by adapting a human performance cycle to impart the skills and knowledge required to achieve mission excellence.

“I have the incredible privilege to work with talented individuals who share my passion for public service and helping others,” states the Puerto-Rican born. “Our mission at USCG Force Readiness Command is to prepare our workforce for their many extraordinary accomplishments. We do this by providing training, Tactics, Techniques and Procedures, Quality Assessments and Exercise Support for our many required contingency plans. I am extremely proud of the great work our team does on a daily basis.”

Moving from the island to a small farm town in Indiana as a teenager was not an easy move. At that time, she did not speak English so she had to work hard and study to be successful in school. “Based on my family’s strong commitment to education, they encouraged me to go to college, pursuit my doctorate and always strive for all available opportunities,” she states. “They instilled that you can accomplish anything you want if you set your mind on those goals. Thanks to my parents’ hard work, I have been successful in achieving all of my personal and professional goals.”

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