By Maj. Gen. Linda R. Urrutia, USAF.
Maj Gen Linda R. Urrutia-Varhall is the Director of Operations at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency in Springfield, Virginia.
As a young girl, I remember watching the Cadets at the United States Air Force Academy line up to march for noon meal formation. Inspired by the spectacle, I leaned over to my Uncle and stated “I plan to be down on the terrazzo one day.” To which my Uncle responded “oh hija, that can’t happen because “girls” are not allowed at the Academy. Crestfallen, I continued the tour and determined I would prove my Uncle wrong.
Fast forward to 1980, I received my nomination to the Academy. Needless to say, I graduated with the fifth class of women and a degree in Civil Engineering, (before STEM was cool). I remain thankful for society believing in and with me and opening doors with opportunities for me to excel.
From 1980 forward, I embraced and aggressively chased every opportunity presented to me. I never dreamed I would be wearing and serving my country as the first Latina to be promoted to Major General (2 stars) in the Active Duty Air Force. Also, as I look back, I never thought my personal story was interesting. I could not have been more wrong.
At every event, I find young Latinas shaking their head in agreement as I simply tell them about my career. Additionally, I should have never shortened my name to U-V, I wish I would have made it a point for others to learn how to roll their “Rs” and address me by my entire name. Finally, I should have embraced the fact Latinas are looking for someone senior they can identify with and as a trailblazer…I was it!
But as unfortunate as it sounds, as Latinas, our fight for equality has just begun. While our percentages are higher in the junior ranks, as we become more senior the percentage of Latinas at the workforce drops dramatically. Those starting out need to understand they themselves are trailblazers and must make mentoring part of their daily ritual. In addition, we need to focus at the mid-range because that is where we lose the majority of the force…we should be honest with our feedback and pass on what worked or didn’t work for us in our career.
By learning from our past mistakes, they then can make the choice that is right for them. As I reflect on the past, I have built my reputation by working hard and the optic of balancing family and business. I know it was my Latin upbringing that made me focus on family and it has always helped shape me in how I view the world.
I have been blessed throughout my 38 years of service and I never dreamed I would travel the world and make a difference daily. I hope I have been a role model for others to look up to and I am excited about the young Latinas that follow…we are on an upward trajectory and setting a path for success in the future. So, aim higher, you are capable of achieving more than you think you can. If I had aimed for two stars, would have four stars been within my reach? Dream bigger!
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