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Military Latinas Make their Mark in STEM

By Christine Bolaños.

The impact of Latinas who help keep their nation safe through military service combined with their intellect in Science-Technology-Engineering-Mathematics (STEM) is palpable. Their influence can be found in all branches of the military, the country they represent, and throughout the world. Kimberly Martinez and Major Marisol A. Chalas are two such women, who broke down barriers despite humble beginnings, and paved the way for the women who followed. They are proud to defend their country, inspire future generations and prove that anything is possible if one sets their mind to it.

Kimberly Martinez
Senior Systems Engineer
Raytheon San Diego

Kimberly Martinez recalls the genuine excitement and curiosity she felt as a child when she spotted a leaf, caterpillar or other bug on the ground. She and her brother looked forward to trips to the park and to the library where they could explore the world around them while their mother cheered them on.

“I always loved math and science,” she says. “I was good at math and really enjoyed that subject. I had some awesome teachers growing up. They challenged me in those fields.”

By the time she reached eighth grade, Martinez decided she wanted to become an engineer. She discovered her fascination for civil engineering after writing a research paper.

Today she is Senior Systems Engineer at Raytheon San Diego. Martinez is the Control Systems Engineering Lead on the LPD-17 Navy ship program and the San Diego Site Diversity Council Coordinator for nine Raytheon diversity groups.

She is a Lieutenant Commander in the Navy Reserves with 13 years of active and reserve services. Her tours include Commander THIRD Fleet Headquarters, SEAL Team 17 and Joint Fleet Maritime Component Commander unit.

Martinez completed three Western Pacific deployments supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom during her active duty time as Nuclear Surface Warfare Officer where she served on USS Bunker Hill and USS Nimitz, respectively.

“I was looking at different ways to pay for college,” she says of her destiny in the military. Once she learned the military offered opportunities for paid tuition, leadership positions and job placement after college, Martinez was sold.

She became the first woman in her proud-military family to join the ranks.

“It was entertaining going through a service academy and for me to become an officer,” Martinez explains. “To see the world, see other cultures and have some adventures and experiences other people didn’t have.”

She is proud to work at Raytheon where she has several Latina friends she describes as “powerhouses,” who take part in community service and engagement, particularly at the middle school level.

“We just started a robotics program in partnership with the San Diego mayor and the San Diego Unified District,” Martinez shares.

She raved about the Latina military veterans who continue making positive change.

“I’m seeing a lot of Latinas who are prior military going into public service, community leadership, nonprofit organizations or in political-type organizations and that’s really inspiring because we have a lot to offer,” Martinez says.

As Senior Systems Engineer, she works on new design and construction of ships, installation of a design update, she rides ships and accesses their systems, writes reports, provides presentations to customers, makes decisions regarding technical issues and everything in between.

“I have been in the reserves about eight years now and still my greatest accomplishment is leading the best men and women in America and being able to work with them to accomplish a mission.”

San Diego participates in the Ashley White Hero WOD to raise awareness for the No Exceptions campaign to highlight women serving in combat and LT Ashley White who paid the ultimate sacrifice. All jobs, including combat jobs previously open only to men are now open to both men and women in the military.

San Diego AIDS walk/run.

Marisol A. Chalas being honored by the Houston Dash.

Major Marisol A. Chalas
Army Congressional Fellow
Washington, D.C.

When Major Marisol Chalas’ parents left the Dominican Republic in search of a better life in the United States, they did not speak English nor have jobs lined up. However, their perseverance and work ethic made it possible for them to eventually bring their children to the land of opportunity.

“They instilled in us hard work and persistence,” Chalas says. “They taught us to never give up and don’t take anything for granted.”

Those lessons paid off as Chalas joined the army and went on to serve in various leadership positions including Lean Six Sigma advisor, Battle Captain and Platoon Leader during Operation Iraqi Freedom; aviation liaison officer for New Horizons-CJTF Barahona, FORSCOM G-4 Aviation Readiness Officer and Company Commander.

Chalas knew she wanted to join the military even before graduating high school. Her parents were blue-collar workers and college seemed impossible until a physics teacher convinced her otherwise. She realized she could serve in the military part-time while attending college to pursue engineering.

Despite the many accolades she has accrued, Chalas still considers graduating from college— a first for her family — to be one of her greatest accomplishments, followed by graduating from flight school.

She highly encourages Latinas to consider a career in STEM or the military.

“Do not be frightened by it even if your family doesn’t have a degree or has served in the military,” Chalas states. “The opportunities are there. You have the capability, the strength and the drive. Don’t shy away from pursuing the unknown.”

Her most recent assignments include serving as Aviation Force Integrator for USARC G-3/5/7 Aviation Directorate, U.S. Army Reserve Exchange Officer serving with Canadian Forces and Battalion Operations Officer for 1-158th Aviation Regiment in Texas.

Marisol A. Chalas honored as Maritime Person of the Year on National Maritime Day.

Chalas was part of the prestigious Strategic Fellows Program at The Institute of World Politics in Washington, DC, and is a graduate of GE’s Nuclear Technical Leadership Program. She worked for GE for 11 years, holding numerous senior management roles, including in Asia, Latin America and Europe.

Her countless accolades include being named the 2016 Maritime Person of the Year by Massachusetts Maritime Academy. She is a member of the Board of Trustees of Massachusetts Maritime Academy.

Chalas currently serves as fellow in the Army Congressional Fellowship Program in D.C. She is working on a master in Legislative Affairs at George Washington University.

She will be assigned to a congressperson either in the House or Senate in the upcoming legislative session.

“I’ll act as subject matter expert from the military perspective, a military liaison if you will,” the proud Latina explains. “I feel that by being a fellow on The Hill I can share my first-hand experience of being a soldier. Right now, only 22-percent of Congress staff is veteran. This is my opportunity to sell the Army story, more specifically the Army Reserve Aviation story.”

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