Dr. Irene M. Zoppi, First Latina Brigadier General Officer, U.S. Army Reserve (Ret)

“There is no better profession than serving in the Armed Forces. A military career is more than an opportunity to serve our Country. It is a pathway to showcase the authentic leadership talent, diversity, and an orgullo of our Hispanic/Latino/Latinx Heritage,” shares Brigadier General (R) Irene M. Zoppi (Rodríguez), aka Ramba, United States Army Reserve. “It is a call to duty aimed at all courageous leaders in the patriotic pursuit of the values of democracy and freedom. In your lifetime, you become part of history, both in peacekeeping and wartime, serving our Nation throughout the world.”

Soldiers assigned to the 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) provide ceremonial support during a General Officer Retirement Ceremony in honor of Brig. Gen. Irene M. Zoppi, in Conmy Hall, Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Virginia, November 19, 2021. The ceremony, hosted by Maj. Gen. Allan M. Pepin, commanding general, Joint Force Headquarters – National Capital Region and the U.S. Army Military District of Washington, honored Zoppi’s 35 years of service to the nation. (U.S. Army photos by Sgt. Nicholas T. Holmes)


BG Zoppi, who would become the first Latina Brigadier General Officer in theUnited States Army Reserve, almost did not join the Army. She had initially sought opportunities in the U.S. Air Force Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC). When diversity and inclusion were unheard of, she trailblazed toward a new culture, language, and lifestyle, joining the vocation of arms while working two jobs; taking care of her minor siblings; and studying for her Bachelor’s degree in Coastal Marine Biology at the University of Puerto Rico, Humacao Campus. Also, she enrolled in the Army ROTC Program with her brother David Victor. The ROTC Program drove potential and talent into excellence. She became passionate about military history, operations, and physical training from her mentors, LTC (R) Angelo Sanchez, COL (R) Arnaldo Claudio, and Mr. Luis G. Pimentel. It was there where she found support and made the most significant decision of her life.

Dr. Zoppi with her family. Her husband Thomas Zoppi, and three children: Isabel, Antonio, and Andrew at retirement ceremony in Conmy Hall, Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Virginia, November
19, 2021. (U.S. Army photos by Sgt. Nicholas T. Holmes).

“I enjoyed it so much that I said I am going to go in the Army,” she shares. “The Professors of Military Science (PMS) were talking to you in a way that would challenge you to believe in yourself. “BE ALL YOU CAN BE was my mantra along with the words that empowered me – There were no limits – Si se puede, pa’lante, no quitting, or simply no quittation.” The daughter of military parents, both having served in the U.S. Navy (active duty), Dr. Zoppi grew up admiring their military discipline. In her childhood, she recalls her mother telling stories of how when she was in the Navy after women got pregnant, they could no longer continue to serve; and how difficult it was being a Latina in the military, especially when English is not their first language. She also recalls her non-Latino strict dad from Vincennes, Indiana, who always said that women belonged in the kitchen, barefoot and pregnant.

Prívate First Class Irene Miller Rodríguez (maiden name) 95B10, at 20 years old. Basic Training. Fort McClellan,
Alabama, 1986.

“I got valiente,” shares Dr. Zoppi. “I wanted to show that Latinas can do it. We can cook, repair cars, raise a family, and still serve in the military. We can be reinas de belleza y Soldiers. We can be whatever we want to be.”

These experiences, along with curiosity and an open mind, led the young Zoppi to take risks regardless of how challenging they were; and use barriers as a strategic drive to keep focus – never give up.

“I am a product of Puerto Rico public schools; I am proud to be representing Puerto Rico in the U.S. Army and showcasing that we are here – Podemos,” she shares. “We are U.S. citizens as well; we know where Puerto Rico is on the map by showcasing us as authentic leaders that love and are passionate about our country.” Advocating for veterans, Latino diversity, and inclusion, Dr. Zoppi serves as a senior leader in intelligence operations. In addition, she is making strides at the National Security Agency to create the sense of empowerment that the Latino workforce needs to become their best to get ahead.

BG Zoppi, Deputy Commanding General – Support, 200th MIlitary Police Command, Fort George G. Meade, MD.

According to the Defense Manpower Data Center, Latinos make up just over 17 percent of active-duty members, but only 8 percent of the officer corps and 1 percent of General Officers. NBC News uncovers this story, pointing to the fact that only a few Latinos hold high-ranking positions in the U.S. military. Today, Dr. Zoppi is committed to making a change.

“I believe in people and their potential to reach the best of themselves,” she shares. “For this reason, education and training become the essential ladder in achieving personal and professional success. Our Nation needs diversity, and we need to take part in history. Otherwise, no one will write about us. How many Latinos are on top rankings? We do not see people in positions of power that are Latinos, and that is a big problem. The challenge is that we do not have Latinos on top senior leadership positions throughout the Department of Defense. There is much talk on diversity, but there is no inclusion movement for Latinos.”

LTC Zoppi with her family in 2011, 1st female Commander for the prestigious 203rd Military Technology Intelligence Battalion, Military Intelligence Readiness Command, Aberdeen Proving
Grounds, Maryland.

Her numerous leadership assignments are, but are not limited to: Deputy Commander & Director, AREC, ARMY SOUTH, Deputy Commander for Readiness, Mission Support Element under the 200th Military Police Command; Deputy Commander & Chief of Staff, 1st Mission Support Command; Group/Brigade Commander, Strategic Intelligence Group; Battalion Commander, 203rd Military Intelligence Battalion (Technical Intelligence); Assistant J2, Chief Intelligence Officer, Joint Task Force, National Capital Region, NORTHCOM; Battalion Commander, 11th Battalion, 3rd Brigade, 104th Division (Leadership Development) and other critical joint assignments including a deployment with the 3rd Armored Division (SPEARHEAD) under her mentors MG Paul Funk and CSM Joe Hill during the Gulf War – OPERATION DESERT SHIELD, STORM, and CALM. Dr. Zoppi served as an Adjunct Faculty Member for the U.S. Army War College, Distance Department of Education, where she pioneered the first course on “Latin America, Central America, and the Caribbean: U.S. National Interests.” She is also a former Adjunct Professor at the College of Business, Strayer University. She is served as a visiting Adjunct Professor at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), Fort Benning, Georgia.

Brig. Gen. Irene Zoppi, U.S. Army Reserve deputy commanding general for the 200th Military Police Command, receives her star as she is promoted from the rank of colonel during a promotion ceremony held on Fort Meade, Maryland, Aug. 28, 2017. During her ceremony, Zoppi expressed pride in her Latin American and Puerto Rican heritage, and she spoke about how her upbringing and culture brought passion and compassion to her military career and leadership style. As the deputy commanding general of support, Zoppi will be supporting Maj. Gen. Marion Garcia who is the commanding general of the largest military police organization in the Department of Defense. (U.S. Army Reserve photo by Master Sgt. Michel Sauret)

From teaching to mentoring and public speaking, Dr. Zoppi admits that retiring from the military was hard. Like many who have served, her military service has been her way of life for over 35 years. She believes the military taught her many life lessons she would not have acquired elsewhere throughout her journey.

“The Armed Forces prepares you to succeed by equipping you with knowledge and skills at each rank, but also to be mentally, physically, and spiritually fit,” she shares. “This is a place where you will find that motivation, charisma, and magnetism as a projection of your image, reputation, and self-esteem in the way you carry yourself both in and out of uniform. Because this is a vocation of arms, it is like no other career.”

Beyond the rigorous military occupational training and educational opportunities, she is proud to have acquired the ability to communicate, both in writing and orally, with diplomacy and poise for action in the unity of effort toward mission achievement that incorporates motivation and teamwork. Dr. Zoppi explained: “The Army sent me to Defense Language Institute for English, which set me up for success.”

“You will gain the experience of your lifetime, as each military assignment provides you with developmental opportunities to excel as a leader – who knows how to lead multiple tasks and accomplish anything, anywhere, at any time,” she shares. “Plus, the stance to serve along your familia, who are part of our military mission. Our families represent – all that we are, and together, we can make the difference!”

Dr. Zoppi receives the Faculty of Excellence Award, Strayer University, 120th Commencement, Baltimore, Maryland, 2012.

When asked what is next for her, she proudly shares that she will continue to serve. Currently, she volunteers as a Member, Board of Trustees, Anne Arundel County Community College, ranked #1 in a national ranking of community colleges by Academic Influence, a team of academics and data scientists providing objective, influence-based rankings for higher education. She is also part of the Advisory Board for Racial Equity and Inclusion Initiative (REI) in our military’s Prestigious Blue Star Families, Encinitas, CA. In support of the military Reserve, she serves as a member of the Reserve Officer Association, Pan American Union of Armed Forces Reserve Officers, Washington, DC. Finally, she hopes to fulfill her dream of writing a book on Latinas in the military and hopes someday to attend the first movie centered on Latinas in the military. “Tell our story from struggle to success,” she shares. “Through our stories, we will boost Latino inclusion at all levels. Vamos!” Despite her humble personality, she is proud to say that she is related to the 16th U.S. President, as a cousin, five times removed, of Abraham Lincoln. “Familia is everything, always remember your ancestors, honor them,” she shares. “We are a tapestry of diversity, be proud of your ancestors in such a way we uplift our community and our Nation toward its total greatness. Keep making a difference. Keep that torch on fire and pass it on, always for a greater purpose!” According to the Defense Manpower Data Center, Latinos make up just over 17 percent of active-duty members, but only 8 percent of the officer corps and 1 percent of general and flag officers.

Today Dr. Zoppi is committed to make change. “I believe in people and their potential to reach the best of themselves. For this reason, education and training become the essential ladder in achieving personal and professional success. Our Nation needs diversity, and we need to take part in history. Otherwise, no one will write about us.” “How many Latinos are on top rankings? We do not see people in positions of power that are Latinos, and that is a big problem,” she shares. “The challenge is that we do not have Latinos on top throughout the Department of Defense. There is much talk on diversity, but there is no movement of diversity for Latinos.” Her numerous leadership assignments are, but are not limited to: Deputy Commander & Director, AREC, ARMY SOUTH, Deputy Commander for Readiness, Mission Support Element under the 200th Military Police Command; Deputy Commander & Chief of Staff, 1st Mission Support Command; Group/Brigade Commander, Strategic Intelligence Group; Battalion Commander, 203rd Military Intelligence Battalion (Technical Intelligence); Assistant J2, Chief Intelligence Officer, Joint Task Force, National Capital Region, NORTHCOM; Battalion Commander, 11th Battalion, 3rd Brigade, 104th Division (Leadership Development) and other critical joint assignments including a deployment with the 3rd Armored Division (SPEARHEAD) under her mentors MG Paul Funk and CSM Joe Hill during the Gulf War – OPERATION DESERT SHIELD, STORM, and CALM. Dr. Zoppi serves as an Adjunct Faculty Member for the U.S. Army War College, Distance Department of Education, where she pioneered the first course on “Latin America, Central America, and the Caribbean: U.S. National Interests.” She is also an Adjunct Professor for the College of Business at Strayer University. She is a preceding visiting Adjunct Professor for the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), Fort Benning, Georgia. From teaching to mentoring and public speaking, Dr. Zoppi admits that retiring from the military was hard.

Like many who have served, her military service has been her way of life for over 35 years. She believes the military taught her many life lessons she would not have acquired elsewhere throughout her journey.

“The Armed Forces prepares you to succeed by equipping you with knowledge and skills at each rank, but also to be mentally, physically, and spiritually fit,” she shares. “This is a place where you will find that motivation, charisma, and magnetism as a projection of your image, reputation, and self-esteem in the way you carry yourself in uniform and out of uniform – it is called military physique. Because this is a vocation of arms, it is like no other career; you will learn and gain experiential leadership/followership with three-dimensional thinking ability in tactical, operational, and strategic environments. From decision making to teambuilding, you learn leadership skills necessary to lead others, solve a conflict, set solutions, and achieve a high-level success that is adaptable, flexible, and applicable to any field within private or public Industry.”

Beyond the rigorous military occupational training and educational opportunities, she is proud to have acquired the ability to communicate, both in writing and orally, with diplomacy and poise for action in the unity of effort toward mission achievement that incorporates motivation and teamwork. Dr. Zoppi explained: “The Army sent me to Defense Language Institute for English, which set me for success.”

“You will gain the experience of your lifetime, as each military assignment provides you with developmental opportunities to excel as a leader – who knows how to lead multiple tasks and accomplish anything, anywhere, at any time,” she shares. “Plus, the stance to serve along your familia, who are part of our military mission. Our families represent – all that we are, and together, we can make the difference!”

When asked what is next for her, she proudly shares that she will continue to serve. Currently, she volunteers as a Member, Board of Trustees, Anne Arundel County Community College, ranked #1 in a national ranking of community colleges by Academic Influence, a team of academics and data scientists providing objective, influence-based rankings for higher education. She is also part of the Advisory Board for Racial Equity and Inclusion Initiative (REI) in the military’s Prestigious Blue Star Families in ­­Washington, DC. Finally, she hopes to fulfill her dream of writing a book on Latinas in the military and hopes someday to attend the first movie on Latinas in the military.

For the aspiring Latinas considering a career in the Armed Forces, she shares a few words of wisdom. “If you are considering a career in the Armed Forces, it is fair to say – I am nervous of the future ahead. However, do not let fear control the way you make decisions. Quickly you will quickly realize that “the future is now,” she shares. “The power of becoming the best version of yourself is in your hands. Do not let negative thoughts collide with your possibilities for self-achievement or simply self-actualization. Here is my advice:1) Research which service suits your personality and dreams, 2) Decide if you want to join as an officer or enlisted, 3) Make a decision and go for it; 4) If you are having doubts, take time to understand – what supports you and what paralyzes you? Set goals with timelines, and achieve them. Nevertheless, above all, make a decision that will support you in becoming the best version of yourself. Go for it.”

“Family is everything, always remember your ancestors, honor them.” Despite her humble beginnings, she is proud to say that she is related to the 16th U.S. President, as a cousin, five times removed, of Abraham Lincoln. “We are a tapestry of diversity, be proud of your ancestors” in such a way, we uplift our community and our Nation toward its greatness. Keep making a ­­difference. Keep that torch on fire and pass it on, always for a greater purpose!”

Leave a Reply