By Staff Sgt. Laura Gauna, USMC.

Eight years ago, I began the journey toward discovering the person I have become. I am the daughter of a strong Latina mother, who loved me unconditionally and created a happy environment for my younger sister and me. My mother maintained a positive atmosphere and shielded me from circumstances that could have been sad or dispiriting to someone without the benefit of a protector and provider such as herself. However, I eventually sensed that the time had come for me to pave my own way in life.

I had always considered the military, but not necessarily the Marines. However, after watching my high school boyfriend grow in confidence and maturity as a Marine military policeman, I decided to visit a Marine Corps recruiter in Mission Viejo, California. I felt a calling to enlist, but my mom encouraged me to think about my decision first.

Staff Sgt. Laura Gauna and her team after completing a Military Operations on Urbanized Terrain exercise in Yuma, Arizona, Oct. 19, 2011. Her team was the one to take down the simulated enemy forces.

After graduating high school and starting community college, I still felt that calling. I felt like I needed to venture outside my cocoon to develop the self-confidence and self-assurance I would need to be successful. Finally, I enlisted and shipped to recruiting training at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, South Carolina, in 2010. I joined with an intelligence contract, lost it during basic training due to issues with my security screening, and eventually became a combat correspondent, or a military photojournalist and videographer.

I joined the Marine Corps in search of a challenge, and challenge is what I received. During basic training and in my early Marine Corps years, I struggled to conform to the Marine Corps standards and lifestyle while simultaneously learning about myself. The Marine Corps is the most physically demanding of the branches of service, which was difficult for someone without much of an athletic background. The blunt, uncompromising culture also presented difficulty for someone, such as myself, who had been raised – almost coddled – by a very loving mother.

Staff Sgt. Laura Gauna with husband, Jimmy, with their two kids, Noah and Mia, at a Café in Okinawa, Japan, October 2, 2017.

I soon realized that for me to be successful, I would have to adapt my nurturing personality to the culture of the Corps. Now as a staff sergeant, I’ve learned to retain my natural upbeat disposition without allowing my subordinates to mistake kindness for weakness. I learned this trait from Gunnery Sgt. Lynn Kinney, a fellow Latina who served as a mentor for me at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton in California. I also draw inspiration from my husband Jimmy Gauna, a former Marine staff sergeant. He was a technically proficient, physically fit Marine who always pushed me in my Marine Corps career.

Today, even as a proud wife and the mother of two beautiful children, I’m still learning more about myself. After this enlistment, I plan on resuming my education and working toward my childhood dream of becoming a wildlife rehabilitator. I don’t know what the future holds, but I’ll always be a proud Marine who is optimistic about the future.

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