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Military Latinas, Defending the Nation with Pride

By Gloria Romano-Barrera.

For many Latinas, joining the military provides many benefits, both professionally and personally. Whether they are in the U.S. military academy, serve in combat roles or are civilians, the military has provided invaluable knowledge and experience. Read how serving in the military has changed the lives of 16 Latinas despite challenges and sometimes dangerous work.

United States Army
Sergeant First Class Carole M. Alonzo-Mercado

SFC Carole M. Alonzo-Mercado, a native of La Ceiba, Honduras was inspired by her stepfather to enlist in the Army Reserve on September 1994 as MOS 43M10 (92S), Shower/Laundry and Clothing Repair Specialist. “I regularly accompanied him to Army Installations in Puerto Rico,” she shares. “The Army’s respect and treatment through him sparked in me the desire of wearing the uniform and someday earning the respect of others.”

After attending Basic Training at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri and Advance Individual Training at Fort Lee, Virginia, she served eight years with the 597th Quartermaster Company, Puerto Rico. Alonzo-Mercado transferred to the active Army in July 2002 and re-classed in 2013 to MOS 51C, Contracting NCO.

Alonzo-Mercado initially joined the Army reserve to provide additional support for her university career. After a few years and the events of 9/11, she decided to serve in a full-time capacity and join active duty.

“Like many others, the 9/11 events changed my life,” she states. “I wanted to help fight for freedom and make sure those events did not happen again. Today, 16 years later there is no turning back, so I will retire with 28 years of service and hopefully my Master’s Degree and I can consider my career a successful one.”

Alonzo-Mercado has held numerous assignments in the past 24 years of service in quartermaster and logistics units throughout the United States, Middle East, and the Pacific. She is currently serving as a Training and Developer for the TRADOC Capability Manager for Operation Contracting Support Section (TCM-OCS), Combined Arms Support Command.

For Alonzo-Mercado, the best part of her job is the cultural diversity and all the experiences developed throughout her interaction with different soldiers and traveling all over the world. “In the military the diversity is boundless and you will meet people from different cultures, backgrounds and experiences that other organizations cannot offer,” she says. “Learning from fellow soldiers with different languages and cultural backgrounds, has increased my knowledge and respect for others and the mission we all have in the Army.”

Ms. Denisse R. Szmigiel

“As a civilian engineer, I decided to work for the Military because I wanted to be part of developing the best technology for the warfighter,” shares Ms. Denisse R. Szmigiel, Deputy Director, U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command-Americas.

Szmigiel became Deputy Director with the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command-Americas (RDECOM-Americas) in Chile on July, 2015.

Before assuming her position at RDECOM, Szmigiel served as an Operations Research Analyst (ORSA) with the Department of Veterans Affairs from 2012 to 2015 supporting the Procurement Services Directors and Associate Executive Director on various phases of program development and Implementation of key VA acquisition programs, contracts and operations.

For Szmigiel, working with people from all different backgrounds: civilians, military, industry, academia, government, U.S. and foreign is the best part of her job. Today, she is not afraid of working hard and achieving her career goals.

Additional assignments include Operations Research Analyst at the Deputy Assistance Secretary of the Army for Cost and Economics (DASA-C&E) located in the Pentagon and Fort Belvoir, VA from 2011 to 2012; Program Integration Specialist at DCMA in Manassas, VA from 2010 to 2011; ARDEC Project Officer, Quality and Systems Engineer at ARDEC located in Picatinny Arsenal from 2007-2010; International Cooperative Specialist at the U.S. Embassy in Santiago, Chile from April2009 to September 2009; Project Manager at UPS in Morristown, NJ from 2001 to 2007; Project Management Trainee at Dow Jones and Company, Inc. in Princeton, NJ and the World Trade Center, NY from 1998 to 2000; Project Manager and Staff Manager, non-profit: Njserves.org in Brunswick, NJ from 2001 to 2003.

Szmigiel earned a Masters of Technology Management from the Stevens Institute of Technology in 2009, and a Bachelor’s of Science in Industrial Engineering including a Mini-MBA from Rutgers University in 2003. Szmigiel has also earned a variety of certification to include Lean Six Sigma Green Belt, Project Management Certified level II, Production Quality Management Certified level II, Systems Engineering Certified level I, Realtor, Personal. Tax and Times Studies certified.

United States Marine Corps
Major Amber G. Coleman

“I met with a Marine Corps recruiter while I was in high school, and the challenge of serving my country in the most selective military service instantly appealed to me,” shares Major Amber Coleman when asked why she joined the military. “There were so many people who said I couldn’t do it or that I would never make it. All of those comments just made me want it more.”

Major Coleman has distinguished herself through exemplary service as the Branch Head, Advanced Analytics Branch, Studies, Analysis, & Innovation Division, Quality Management Center, Marine Corps Logistics Command, Albany, Georgia from August 2017 to July 2018.

Coleman was accepted to the Naval Academy Preparatory School (NAPS), and received her commission as a Second Lieutenant in the Marine Corps upon graduating from the Naval Academy in 2004.

“I was 18 years old, and I was just really impressed with all of the Marines that I had been exposed to up to that point in my life,” she states. “I loved the values that Marines embodied, and I knew that I wanted to be a leader of Marines.

Working with fellow Marines is the best part of Coleman’s job. As a field grade officer, she spends a lot of time teaching and mentoring junior officers. “I enjoy being able to share the experiences and lessons I learned as a junior officer and hopefully help my Marines become better leaders,” she states. “I also appreciate that the Marine Corps constantly challenges me. Every two to three years, I go somewhere new and have to learn a new job.”

During the past 12 months, Major Coleman also worked with the Marine Depot Maintenance Command (MDMC), which oversees two depot maintenance production plants and a $1.2 billion budget over the Future Years Defense Program (FYDP).

Today, Coleman is proud of what she has acquired from joining the military and believes it has allowed her to grow in many ways.

“The Marine Corps trusted me with a platoon of Marines and millions of dollars’ worth of equipment in a combat environment at a very young age,” she says. “That much responsibility made me grow up really fast and take my job very seriously. There were times when the decisions I made were literally life or death decisions. There’s nowhere else that I could have learned to operate under that much pressure and still excel.

United States Navy
Lieutenant Kimberly Rios

“I joined the military because I wanted to serve the country that allowed my parents to achieve the American Dream, and provided my family with so many opportunities for success,” states Lieutenant Kimberly Rios, Judge Advocate General’s Corps, United States Navy.

It was in high-school at only 15 years old, while participating in the Navy Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (NJROTC) that Rios realized she wanted to join the military. Since no one in her family had ever joined the military, her family was shocked and against her choice of joining, however, years later, they are supportive and proud.

Today, Rios is assigned to the Office of the Judge Advocate General, Appellate Government Division (Code 46). In 2011, Rios graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science and English with honors from Aurora University. She then attended DePaul University College of Law where she received her Juris Doctorate with honors in May 2014.

For Rios, the comradery and initiative the senior officers take to mentor and support her, and the family-oriented environment amongst my peers are the best part of her job. The hardest part, however is learning new tasks and skills every time she rotates into a new billet.

“The challenge forces me to remain flexible, strengthens my patience, and heightens the confidence in myself that I can meet the new challenge,” she shares. “Growing up in a low-income family, I have had to use resources wisely and work twice as hard as the next person to excel. I’ve also had to challenge and overcome cultural stereotypes about women within my own family just so that I can get myself where I needed to be to advance my career as a military lawyer.”

Rios commissioned into the U.S. Navy JAG Corps through the Student Program in August 2014. In 2014, Rios attended Officer Development School and immediately reported to Naval Justice School in Newport, Rhode Island in January 2015. Upon completion of Naval Justice School in March 2015, she reported to Region Legal Service Office Midwest in Great Lakes, Illinois.

Rios intends to pursue the Military Justice Litigation Career Track. Her advice for Latinas entering the workforce is to, “Be confident in yourself enough to volunteer for the most challenging tasks and work hard to excel in that task,” she says. “Everything else will follow.”

Petty Officer First Class
Brenda V. Chavez
Command Career Counselor

Born and raised in McAllen, Texas NC1(SW/AW) Brenda V. Chavez graduated from McAllen Memorial High School in 2002 and enlisted as a Seaman Apprentice in the United States Navy in November of 2001 under the Delayed Entry Program. She attended Recruit Training Command Great Lakes, Illinois, in October 2002 and has been serving the country for 15 years.

“I joined the military early on as a young adult with dreams of seeing the world, getting a college education and getting to know different types of people and cultures,” says Chavez. “My oldest sister, Diana, had enlisted in the Navy and was serving at the time I made my decision to follow in her footsteps.”

For Chavez, the best part of her job is to influence ideas, change for the better and getting to know individuals with the same ideals.

“I am very driven by success and if I can touch one person and be a part of that transformation, I can say I have succeeded,” she states. “When it’s my time to retire, I can go home, satisfied knowing that our country is going to be ok.”

As Departmental Career Counselor for the Combat Systems Department, she successfully managed a department of 200 Sailors for a period of two years. Her determination to become an expert Navy Career Counselor led to her conversion to Navy Counselor in 2009 and was advanced to NC1.

Her first duty as a Navy Counselor was aboard USS JOHN C. STENNIS (CVN-74) for a crew of over 2,500 Sailors. She contributed to the command obtaining the Retention Excellence Award for FY-09, FY-10 and FY-11.

NC1 Chavez has already taken responsibility as an ISIC Command Career Counselor and currently holds designations as the Command CPO 365/Sailor 360 Training Coordinator, Command Resilience Team (CRT) member, Executive Department Leading Petty Officer (LPO), and First Class Petty Officer Association (FCPOA) Secretary.

Chavez wants to inspire at least one person to inspire someone else to do good. “I believe in the domino effect,” she says. “Touch people so that in turn, they may touch others.”

Ms. Michelle E. Rosa

My parents provided me with the greatest examples of hard work and public service,” says Michelle E. Rosa. “Since before I graduated college, I had considered a career in public service, however it wasn’t until I had the opportunity to work as a contractor for DoD that I realized how much the mission resonated with me. I was 30 when I joined the civil service and 24 when I started to work as a DOD contractor.”

Rosa serves as a Cybersecurity Risk Analyst for OPNAV N2N6 at the U.S. Navy. In this capacity, she develops metrics that provide insights into execution of the Navy’s cyber resilience strategy, and support Echelon I level decisions. She also provides recommendations to high level officials on cybersecurity measures, investments and policies.

Rosa previously served as an Enterprise IT Program Manager for the Naval Air Warfare Center, Air Craft Division. In this capacity, she managed a multi-million-dollar program that is used by almost 20,000 CONUS and OCONUS Navy users.

For Rosa, the best part of her job is seeing the impact her work has on the warfighter. In her role she is able to influence decisions that will enhance the state of cybersecurity within the Navy. The hardest part is ensuring that every project, decision and initiative that she takes on not only adds significant value to warfighters but ensures that they advance and protect the national security mission.

“I’ve learned to deeply value our warfighters and the incredible work they do to ensure we enjoy a country where we have freedom and prosperity,” she says. “As a civilian, there is a certain sense of responsibility to not just the warfighter but to the American people in general that one develops in this type of career. There is also a lot of structure and discipline in the kind of work we do and those are two things I truly value as a civilian.”

Rosa earned a B.S. degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez and an MBA from the Ana G. Mendez University System.

U.S. Air Force
Captain Michelle Cazares

Wanting to make her parents proud, be a good role model to her siblings, seek more in life and the desire to go to college inspired Captain Michelle Cazares to join the military. “Getting the opportunity to travel the world also made the decision to join the military very appealing,” she shares.

Cazares is a Cyberspace Officer assigned to the 39th Communications Squadron at Incirlik AB, Turkey as the Plans and Programs Flight Commander.

She entered the Air Force after graduating high school in August 2000 as a Supply Systems Analyst. In 2013 she commissioned through Officer Training School as a Cyberspace Officer. Throughout her career, she has served in various leadership positions including special systems support NCOIC, A-10 Assistant Supply Section Chief, Logistics Career Broadener, Senior Enlisted Advisor, Client Service Center OIC, Executive Officer, Defense Maintenance Flight Commander, Lead Crew Commander, and most recently Assistant Director of Operations. Her military awards include Defense Meritorious Service Medal, Air Force Commendation Medal w/4 oak leaf clusters, Air Force Achievement Medal w/2 oak leaf clusters, and Joint Meritorious Unit Award.

Not coming from a military family, her family was shocked when she joined the military. Her initial plans were to stay four years and go back home, however she decided to re-enlist and take orders to South Korea.

“The best part of my job is that I get to work unique missions all over the world with great people that are very passionate about what they do and about taking care of their subordinates,” she states. “The hardest part of my job is that I have to say “goodbye” to those great people I work with and others that I meet at the different locations I get stationed at.”

Cazares believes in working hard regardless of how small the task is – a trait her father taught her. “He never put a gender role on it and just wanted me to give it my all in whatever I was doing,” she shares. “I have kept that mentality which, has helped me be successful in a traditionally male environment. Thinking about how hard my father worked growing up and still does to this day motivates me even more.”

Her advice for Latinas is to “always give 110 percent in everything,” she states. “Don’t wait till someone tells you what to do, take the initiative to do what needs to be done. People are always watching and they will notice your work ethic.”

United States Air Force
Captain Gloriemar Torre’ Santiago

Captain Gloriemar Torre’ Santiago is the Standardization and Evaluation Flight Commander for the 23d Bomb Squadron, Minot Air Force Base (AFB) in North Dakota. She is responsible for overseeing all standardization and evaluations for 70 squadron personnel. The flight ensures all members are able to execute their 5th Bomb Wing assigned combat mission and are prepared to execute national security policy by delivering conventional and nuclear weapons to destroy targets in defense of the U.S.

Joining the military because it was something she was familiar with – her father was enlisted in the Army at the time and it felt like the right path for her. “I was a member of the Navy JROTC unit at my high school and my instructors helped us see that there were avenues to get college paid for and also give back to our country,” she shares. “Therefore, I eventually elected to pursue a nomination to the U.S. Air Force Academy after I saw that my twin brother was applying to West Point (United States Military Academy).”

In 2006, Torre’ Santiago entered basic military training at the United States Air Force Academy Preparatory School as a Cadet candidate. She graduated from USAFA and earned her commission in May 2011.

Currently, Torre’ Santiago is the sole Latina aviator at Minot AFB, responsible for standardization and evaluations for over 90 personnel assigned to the 23d Bomb Squadron. She ensures all members meet combat ready standards with a team of only one additional Captain and one civilian employee.

Torre’ Santiago would like to be remembered for being someone that anyone could go up to and for her to be willing to help out. “I want to be the very best at my job, not only in the aircraft, but also outside of it,” she shares. “I want to leave a legacy that I came into my squadron and I made it a better place not only for future Latinas, but people in general with the help of my fellow aviators and Airman that help us execute our mission because without them none of this would be possible.”

Technical Sergeant
Sasha M. Alejandro

Technical Sergeant Sasha M. Alejandro is the Executive Assistant to the Command Chief at the Air Force Personnel Center (AFPC) at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Texas. She provides vital Junior Enlisted perspective to the Center’s senior leaders influencing six directorates and seven special staff agencies supporting 1.7 million personnel.

Sergeant Alejandro directly coordinates with the Office of the Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force, Major Commands, Numbered Air Forces and Wing Senior Leaders on all aspects influencing the Enlisted Force. As the administrative lead for the Center’s Awards Recognition program, she safeguards directorate-level nominations for seven military and civilian categories and serves as the primary liaison between AFPC and the Pentagon during Headquarters Air Force quarterly and annual award boards. She is also the principle for several programs designed to recognize the Air Force’s finest Airmen such as the Senior Leader Enlisted Commissioning and the 12 Outstanding Airmen of the Year programs.

Alejandro joined the Air Force in 2007. Throughout her career she has served in various positions within the Personnel career field to include her current assignment, a two-year highly selective position. Her assignments include the following stateside and overseas locations: Maryland, South Korea, Florida and Texas. Alejandro also deployed in support of PANAMX16 as Joint Human Capital Lead Interpreter enabling mission operations for 13 nations and three Sister Services where she was recognized as a top performer by the Army South Commander. Due to her hard work and dedication to the mission, Alejandro was honored as the 2011 Pacific Air Forces Human Resources Airman of the Year; 2012 325th Force Support Airman of the Year; 2013 325th Mission Support Group Airman of the Year and the 2016 AFPC Division Human Resources Noncommissioned Officer of the Year.

Additionally, she garnered prestigious Professional Military Educational Awards such as Distinguished Graduate from Airman Leadership School in 2013 and John L. Levitow Top Graduate from the Noncommissioned Officer Academy in 2017. Sergeant Alejandro has been awarded the Community College of the Air Force degree in Human Resource Management and a baccalaureate degree from American Military University in Psychology.

Dr. Sonia Esquivel

Born in Mexico, Dr. Sonia Esquivel and her family migrated to Garden City in the 1970’s from Chihuahua. The youngest of 10 children, and a graduate of Garden City High School, she attended Garden City Community College and earned an Associates in Nursing.

An Academic Advisor and Professor of Spanish at The United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Dr. Esquivel is the lead Academic Advisor for squadrons 1-10 and has served as the Course Director for Spanish 132. She is also the principal investigator for the Sense of Belonging of Cadet, a Longitudinal Study at The Air Force Academy. Dr. Esquivel has escorted cadets on language immersions to Chile and Mexico.

Working with students and seeing students grow from their freshmen year to officers and then being invited to their weddings as Captains is the best part of Dr. Esquivel’s job. “Or when I run into them after graduation and they tell me how much they wish they would have paid more attention in class because now they are working at South Comm,” she states.

Today, her family and students give her the strength to blaze the trails at work. “I have established a good relationship with my colleagues,” she shares. “Our Dean Gen. Armacost, and many others who have supported me through the trials at USAFA. Hearing my students share their stories of sacrifice, commitment, and perseverance despite just arriving to the United States with limited English.”

She loves her job at the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs guiding and teaching students. Dr. Esquivel is also the principal investigator for a Cultural Diversity research study being conducted at USAFA. Dr. Esquivel has presented her research at multiple conferences and is in the process of publishing.

Her advice to other is to, “Learn to Stand up for what is right and choose your battles, don’t make a big deal out of nothing, use your voice to advocate for those who may not have found theirs, we not only represent ourselves, but our culture.”

United States Coast Guard Yeoman Second Class Rita M. Martinez

“I joined the service because the Coast Guard missions and core values are aligned with my values and views,” states Rita M. Martinez. “Also, I wanted to have a career that could provide many challenges and opportunities as well as an immense sense of pride. That is exactly what being in the Coast Guard means to me.”

In July 2000, her husband enlisted in the Coast Guard and that is how she learned about the Coast Guard mission and values. But it wasn’t until 2011, when she was 28 years old, that she enlisted. For Martinez, it was the right time because she felt her children were old enough to understand the challenges.

From Santiago, Dominican Republic and a 2008 graduate of the American Military University with a Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice, Martinez assumed the duties as the lead YN2 of Coast Guard Base Seattle Admin department in July 2016.

Martinez’s other career assignments include a tour at Communications Area Master Station Atlantic where she provided facility support while leading and mentoring four non-rated personnel about the importance of continuing their education.

For Martinez the best part of her job is also the most challenging part. “In my position, I am asked to be present to assist members in what can be the most stressful times of their lives,” she states. “Emotions run high, and I want to provide the highest level of customer service and professionalism with each encounter. As a Mission Support Specialist, I realize my mission is to help each member arrive at their mission ready and free from worry that their pay and benefits are in order. I am proud to be here in both the happy and challenging times, it reminds me again that we are family.”

Today, she has developed a unique sense of unity, sense of family, and sense of adventure since she moves every four years. Her advice is to, “To always work hard on goals and never give up.”

United States Army National Guard
Captain Elsa E. Canales

“My brother gave me the inspiration to join the military as he joined the Army months before I did,” shares Captain Elsa E. Canales. “He has always been my role model and when he joined I wanted to follow his footsteps and make a difference.”

Born in San Miguel, El Salvador, Canales moved from El Salvador in 1999 to New York.

Captain Canales commissioned as a Second Lieutenant after graduating from the Reserve Officer Training Program at Stony Brook University in August 2009 branching Quartermaster. She has served in the following leadership positions: Platoon Leader in G Company Forward Support Company (FSC) Field Artillery, 427th BSB in Jamaica, Queens; Executive Officer in 1-118th FSC, Camp Buehring, Kuwait; Operations Officer in 642nd Aviation Support Battalion in Rochester and Camp Buerhring, Kuwait; Battalion S4 in 42nd Headquarters and Headquarter Battalion in Troy, NY; Company Commander, Headquarters and Headquarter Company, 427th Brigade Support Battalion, Syracuse, NY; and currently, the Company Commander, Company Alpha, 427th Brigade Support Battalion, Rochester, N.Y.

“I was 22 years old when I joined the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps,” she shares. “However, I realized I wanted to make a career out of the Army in 2016 shortly after I was select to serve as a company commander.”

For Canales, the interaction she has with Soldiers and also influencing their civilian or military careers is the best part of her job. The hardest part of her job is seeing the increase of suicides in their formations.

CPT Canales deployed to Buehring, Kuwait in 2012 in support of the Operation Enduring Freedom. In 2013, she deployed for a second tour in Buehring, Kuwait as a part of Operation Enduring Freedom and served as the Operations Officer in the 642nd Aviation Support Battalion.

Today, Canales credits her mother for giving her the strength to blaze the trails in her career. “My hardworking mother is the one who has always gives me the strength that guides me and always motivates me to be the best at every task I do no matter how large or small that may be,” she shares. “My advice would be to never give up; never give up on your goals. Do not be afraid to fail because failing is a part of the learning process. The most important part is to keep trying.”

United States Naval Academy Midshipman First Class Jocelyn Rodriguez

“I decided to go to the Naval Academy because I wanted to serve, and I loved how the Naval Academy focuses on developing people of character,” states Midshipman First Class Jocelyn Rodriguez. “The mission goes far beyond making me a good student; the goal is to form good people and excellent leaders. I was drawn to a place that would challenge me morally, mentally, and physically.”

Born in Yuma, Arizona, Rodriguez serves as the 1st Company Commander at the United States Naval Academy. Rodriguez is active through her work with Catholic Midshipman Club and STEM outreach. Setting eye on attending the Naval Academy during her senior year of high school, Rodriguez believes USNA has made her a better person in every way.

With a supportive family, the best part of her job as a Midshipman is being surrounded by so many like-minded individuals. “They inspire me to be better every day, and I have made friendships that I know will last a lifetime,” she shares.

Rodriguez shares being in the academy has taught her how to work as a team and more. “My ways of attacking problems now have completely shifted over to understanding how to capitalize on every individual’s strengths in a team environment,” she states. “The community at USNA is like no other. What makes the military strong is that we are a melting pot of so many different personalities, backgrounds, and ways of thinking. I am proud to be a Latina in the military and I hope to inspire others to do the same.”

Rodriguez is one of 12 in her class selected for the medical corps billet; she will be attending medical school following graduation in May 2019.

United States Air Force Academy Cadet First Class Sharon Dominguez

Born and raised in Hagerstown Maryland, Cadet First Class Sharon Dominguez is the daughter of Colombian immigrants and the oldest sibling of two.

“I was enlisted in the Air Force prior to knowing about the Academy,” she shares. “I had originally enlisted because my family and I did not have the money to fund a 4-year college degree—I had to find a way to make it work. Within those 3 years, I fell in love with the military and realized this is where I was meant to be. Then one day my commander at the time came to me and encouraged me to look into the Air Force Academy. The opportunity was perfect for me; I could get a college degree and still serve once I graduated. In 2015 I was blessed enough to receive an appointment and I left that summer.”

Dominguez credits her parents for instilling strength in her. “I grew up being raised

by the strongest two people I have ever known,” she shares. “Two immigrants from Colombia who knew little about the U.S., the language, the culture and the low odds they were about to face. My parents never once had it easy, but they believed in the American Dream and refused to give up. They have always shown me to build your own success. Work every day to earn your place, the world owes you nothing.”

When it comes to earning a spot in a traditionally male environment, she has always been socially aware of the hidden uphill battle women have in the male dominated world. Her advice is to, “be confident when you arrive, stay humble but hold yourself in a way that shows you are ready to adapt to your situation,” she shares. “In addition, no matter the job given to you, be the best person at that job every time. Whether you believe the job given to you is of a major importance or completely irrelevant, treat them both the same. You will start to build a reputation of someone that can succeed wherever you are and that will soon bring more and more opportunities for you.”

Cadet First Class Sarah Kreiser

“I joined the military because I had volunteered consistently at the Phoenix Veteran’s Affairs Hospital while I was in high school, and was inspired by the veterans I interacted with,” shares Kreiser. “I wasn’t particularly familiar with the military at the time as neither of my parents had served, but I knew it was something I wanted to do after taking care of veterans.”

From Phoenix, Arizona, and the eldest daughter of Steve Kreiser of Dallas, Texas, and Sandra Mayol-Kreiser of Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, Kreiser is a cadet at the United States Air Force Academy and is pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology with a minor in Spanish. She attended Greystone Preparatory School at Schreiner University as a Falcon Foundation Scholar prior to attending The Academy.

“I knew I wanted to have a career in the military since attending the United States Air Force Academy,” she says. “I have met some incredible officers and enlisted personnel, and I want to carry on their legacy. In addition, life at the academy is a grind and I am challenged every day; I feel like I owe it to the people who have supported me along the way to do a good job.”

While her family was very surprised by her career choice, Kreiser believes to be at one of the best institutions in the country. Today she is on track to becoming a pilot in the U.S. Air Force.

“Although I do not have my official job yet, my favorite part about being in a leadership position as a cadet at the academy is that I get to work with incredible human beings who are caring, intelligent, and motivated,” she shares. “My peers motivate me to continue to grow into a better-rounded person.”

Kreiser hopes to pave the path for those who come after her. She also hopes to break down stereotypes and bring a fresh perspective into any environment she finds herself in.

“It’s important to me that both men and women see women succeeding in order to inspire and change culture,” she says. I would like to leave a positive mark on my environment. When I leave, I want people to remember the things I did to show them that I value them, no matter who they were.”

United States Coast Guard Academy Cadet First Class Valentina Giraldo Torres

Valentina Giraldo Torres was born in Cali, Colombia and immigrated to the United States when she was five years old. She is currently a senior at the Coast Guard Academy where she studies Marine and Environmental Sciences and conducts acoustics research for the Mystic Aquarium partnering with Scripps Institute of Oceanography.

She is an active team member of the academy’s Marathon and CrossFit teams and is also the co-president of Compañeros Council. She plans on using her leadership in Compañeros to bring more diversity and Hispanic culture to cadet life by giving them the opportunity to experience Hispanic culture in their local communities while also learning about the rich history and culture of different Hispanic countries.

This past summer, Giraldo Torres had the opportunity to be a crew member aboard the Mexican Tall Ship Cuauhtémoc for 11 weeks where she was able to use her Hispanic roots in order to shed light on the importance of diversity in the Coast Guard and how we are working towards building and maintaining partnerships with countries and their Hispanic communities. After graduation, she hopes to be placed on a cutter out of Florida or Puerto Rico where she can use her Spanish speaking abilities and Hispanic background to better the Coast Guard and work to complete the missions of Drug and Migrant Interdiction.

Giraldo Torres will earn her commission and complete a Bachelor’s of Science Degree in Marine and Environmental Science in the spring of 2019 before she departs for the fleet as one of the Coast Guards newest Ensigns.

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