Honoring Latina Heroes
By Gloria Romano-Barrera
Leadership, courage, dedication, and integrity are important qualities in the workplace. Regardless of rank or branch in the U.S. Armed Forces, cultivating a life with these traits in mind has led 13 Latinas to success. The Latina heroes profiled here are not only champions and role models for the young generation to follow, but they are also sacrificing their lives for our freedom.
Chief Warrant Officer Five Sherry M. Coffey, U.S. Army
With a desire to follow in her father’s footsteps, Chief Warrant Officer Five Sherry M. Coffey’s goal was to overcome the stereotypes of women in the Army, especially those who worked in so-called women-friendly professions in military service such as the nursing and clerical field. Joining the military at 20-years-old, CW5 Coffey distinguished herself by making significant contributions to her community, the Army Reserve, National Guard partners, and United States Army Forces Command. She is an outstanding advocate for diversity, equity, and inclusion within her organization with strong ties in the Hispanic community. She is a role model with innovative initiatives that have helped cultivate an organizational culture that respects and values differing backgrounds and points of view. CW5 Coffey is an outstanding leader, an Observer, Coach/Trainer with more than 27 years of service, whose sage advice to commanders at all levels helped reduce issues and complaints, enhancing a positive command climate that improved overall unit readiness. The Army’s HRC ‘System of Record verified that CW5 Coffey is the only female Hispanic 915E in the history of the U.S. Army. CW5 Coffey is the Army’s first Latina selected and promoted to the rank of CW5 915E. CW5 Coffey served two deployments in Iraq, and one in Afghanistan. She has completed three restricted tours which include working for the (SATMO) USA Embassy in Quito, Ecuador; Korea and USA Embassy in Panama City, Panama. “The most significant part of my career is to know that my presence in the military is allowing our successors the opportunity to aspire to succeed and exceed the limits that they may believe will be a barrier,” she states. “Diversity is the key to success, we all can contribute to greatness while learning from one another.”
Elsa Gudiel U.S., Army Forces Command
“I have always wanted to work for the Dept of Defense (DOD)-Army,” states Elsa Gudiel, U.S. Army Forces Command. “At the age of 20, I was actually planning to join the military however a life-changing experience happened causing me to alter my goals. I did not let my setback deter me. I then decided my goal would be to one day go work for the Pentagon, as I knew working for the DOD was another way that I could serve my country.” Gudiel has distinguished herself by making significant contributions to her community and the U.S. Army Forces Command, for exceptional service while serving as a Sexual Assault Response Victim Advocate for the Headquarters, 11th Signal Brigade, Fort Hood, Texas from August 2016 through the present. Gudiel has demonstrated profound compassion while assisting service members, family members, and civilians; as well as profound leadership initiatives for SARCs and Victim Advocates. She excelled in managing and coordinating the Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention Program (SHARP) for over 2100 Service Members and DoD Civilians serving within the 11th Signal Brigade at Fort Hood, TX, Fort Bliss, TX, and Fort Huachuca, AZ. At 18-years-old, Gudiel started working in the criminal justice field at a medium-security prison. After graduating from Texas State University, she landed a job with Child Protection Services as an Investigator. It was then that she knew wanted to continue her career in the social service field, with an emphasis on victim services. “The best part of my job is that people trust me,” she shares. “They trust me with some of the most traumatic events that have happened in their lives and trust that I can put forth an effort to alleviate the turmoil that they have endured. The hardest part of my job is listening to someone say their life does not matter. Safety planning with someone who fears their own thoughts is difficult at times. Because I am such a compassionate person to a fault, balancing my own emotions during a victim’s crisis is something that I had to master, however, I still allow myself my private moments when needed.” Gudiel’s genuine concern and compassion for all across the brigade reflects great credit upon herself, the 11th Signal Brigade, Ill Corps, Fort Hood, Texas, and the Department of the Army. Ultimately, Gudiel’s unwavering dedication to her work contributed to an enhanced and positive command climate that improved overall unit readiness.
Gunnery Sergeant Marisol Horta, U.S. Marine Corps
Gunnery Sergeant Marisol Horta epitomizes the Marine Corps values and demonstrates superior leadership. She continuously sets herself above her peers and sets the example for all Marines. She is recognized for meritorious service as the J1 noncommissioned officer in charge while assigned to special operations joint task force and administrative chief, while assigned to marine fighter attack squadron 323, from August 2017 to May 2019. “I enjoy taking care of the Marines and teaching them what I know in hopes that it will help them in the future and possibly influence others as well,” she shares. “I like to tell everyone that the sky is the limit and they need to just “go for it.” As the J1 senior enlisted advisor in support of operation inherent resolve, she provided human resources support to over 4,000 United States service members, coalition partners and subordinate units throughout the combined joint operation area. While at marine fighter attack squadron 323, she reviewed and approved over 700 authorizations and vouchers, had a zero-delinquency rate, and ensured the proper and timely reimbursements of over $ 800,000. As a command team member and active duty deployment readiness coordinator, she advised and helped coordinate multiple squadron events to include the squadron marine corps ball and multiple ceremonies.
Lieutenant Commander Maggie V. Cole, U.S. Navy
“I knew I wanted to make a difference in the world, but I was not sure what path I wanted to take while I was in law school,” states LCDR. Maggie V. Cole. “Once I learned about the U.S. Navy Judge Advocate General’s (JAG) Corps during a school presentation with JAGs present, I immediately knew my calling. As a Navy JAG attorney, you see the results of what you do every single day and the direct impact on people and nations. Plus, you get to support your country directly, practice in diverse areas of law, and travel to countries and ports around the world.” LCDR Margaret Cole distinguished herself through exemplary service as Deputy Staff Judge Advocate, Commander, Navy Installations Command. A respected legal expert, and the model of good judgment and professionalism, she established a new standard of excellence for legal services for the Navy’s Shore Enterprise. Her counsel was instrumental to the success of the Commander and staff as they navigated complex ethics and military justice issues, and complicated, high visibility good order and discipline matters. Her management of a four-million-dollar court-martial budget enabled all Region Commanders to meet their military justice obligations, and her seamless support to all Region Staff Judge Advocates built an unprecedented network of legal support at every level of command. In the National Capital Region, she co-founded the first Navy Judge Advocate General’s Corps Hispanic Association and currently serves as its first Vice President. Further, she mentored and empowered junior Officers to maximize their personal and professional potential through a local “Lean In” group she helped establish. “A life of public service can be meaningful and rewarding,” she shares. “Working with people who share in your world-views, values and challenge you to be better is like hitting the jackpot! Find those people that inspire you and don’t forget to be a role model to those below you. We all need someone to look up to, be that person!”
Lieutenant Melissa A. Rodriguez, U.S. Navy
“I joined the Navy for several reasons, but it mainly came down to pursuing a career that was personally and professionally fulfilling, served others, and allowed me to travel the world,” Lt. Melissa A. Rodriguez, U.S. Navy states. “While the military wasn’t the career path I initially had in mind when I decided to go to law school, the more I learned about the Navy JAG Corps, the more I realized it was exactly what I wanted to do.” The first person in her family to join the U.S. military, her family was extremely surprised when she told them the news. Today she distinguishes herself through exemplary service as the Staff Judge Advocate to Task Force 48. She positively contributed to building relationships and maintaining regional stability in the U.S. Southern Command Area of Responsibility by training 200 multinational officers on matters of international law during UNITAS LIX, conducting Subject-Matter Expert Exchanges, and coordinating Community Relations events in Honduras, Colombia, and Trinidad and Tobago. Her mentorship and commitment to excellence as a Navy Judge Advocate General Corps Diversity Liaison to the National Latina/o Law Student Association is inspiring to Latina/o law students. Lieutenant Rodriguez’s efforts as a founding member of the Navy Judge Advocate Hispanic Association demonstrate her care and dedication to improving the Latina/o community.
Sara Salas, U.S. Navy
“By working in a military environment, I have interacted with people from so many diverse backgrounds,” states Sara Salas, Deputy Director of Equal Employment Opportunity at the Fleet Readiness Center Southwest. “This has developed my emotional intelligence, as I’ve had to understand the different communication styles others bring to the table and, in turn, alter the way I communicate with each individual.” Over the past 12 months, she has mentored numerous journeymen employees. They have included human resources practitioners, engineers and aircraft mechanics. She imparts the wisdom she has learned through the completion of the Latina Success Leadership Program, the Women’s Conference and incorporated best practices and/or lessons learned from other mentors to set employees on their own paths toward personal growth and career development. Salas states, “her greatest joy is witnessing employees from different walks of life set aside differences and work together.”
Master Sergeant Brenda Rodriguez, U.S. Air Force
“When I first joined, I had put some thought into building a career serving in the Air Force, as I had a spirit of discovery,” states Master Sergeant Brenda Rodriguez about her beginnings in the military. “Along the way, I figured I would take it year by year and then see. As time went by, I had many great experiences, met some great friends, and traveled to many places around the world. Ultimately, I decided that serving my country was my calling.” She has distinguished herself by meritorious achievement while participating in sustained aerial flight as Presidential Flight Attendant Flight Chief of Operations Support, Presidential Airlift Squadron, Presidential Airlift Group, 89th Airlift Wing, Joint Base Andrews, Maryland. She exhibited professionalism and superior performance beyond normal expectations while amassing 241 flight hours transporting the President of the United States of America to 50 states and 10 countries, and was essential to the Presidential Airlift Group’s 100 percent departure reliability rate. Additionally, she managed $45,000 in-service requirements, supported 48 presidential missions, and assured the quality and safety of over 2000 meals for over 1200 passengers aboard Air Force One.
Captain Amparo E. Romero Ortiz, U.S. Air Force
“I joined the military because I always wanted to serve my country,” says Captain Amparo Elizabeth Romero Ortiz, U.S. Air Force. “I wanted to be part of something greater than myself and have an impact on others.” Captain Romero Ortiz is recognized of her outstanding leadership in combat and on sensitive reconnaissance missions, and her tireless efforts to continue her education and promote the STEM field to the younger generations. In addition, she was voted as the Student Council President for her six-week Squadron Officer School training, where she organized several hours of volunteer and community service to the city of Montgomery, Alabama. In addition to excelling at her primary duties, she has been working toward a graduate degree in Astronautical Engineering. “Being one of very few Latinas gives me the strength to continue to represent my community and what all we can bring to the table,” she shares. “It is important for Latinas/Latinos to feel like they are being represented in the military, and hopefully it gives them the courage to go for it and pursue their dreams. Si Se Puede, you can accomplish anything you set your mind to.”
Martha P. Flores U.S., Air Force
Martha P. Flores distinguished herself as Systems Element Chief, 453d Electronic Warfare Squadron, Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas. She managed a $12.8 million threat detection system capable of processing in excess of nine million worldwide signals per month with minimal interruptions or maintenance downtime. Her efforts ensured national databases were provided high-fidelity updates for newly discovered threat system changes. Additionally, she led an 11-member team that enhanced geolocation and site processing algorithms for a revolutionary automated flagging analysis system. These new algorithms saved over 1,500 labor-intensive man-hours per year. Her initiative to modernized coding resulted in a more efficient database allowing the systems core processes analysis to go from multiple hours to five minutes. The system’s automated anomaly detection is able to eradicate millions of redundant signals which was key to her section’s success in light of dire manning constraints. She directed a critical system software deployment which is capable of validating 6.6 million signals and 10,500 modes.
Xiomara Torres Coast, Guard Exchange
Xiomara Torres has been working at the Coast Guard Exchange for 22 years, beginning in 1997. Through the years, she has been an excellent asset to the Coast Guard Exchange System. She has worked in almost every department in the Borinquen Coast Guard Exchange. Her dedication and commitment to be the very best that she can be has greatly contributed to her successful rise in the company to her current position as Department Manager at the Borinquen Coast Guard Exchange. She drives sales results, delivers excellent customer service and always looks for the opportunity to keep growing and developing herself as a professional in a healthy environment. Torres is very proactive, participating for 10 years in the Morale Committee as the Vice-Chair and is currently the Chairman of the Morale Committee. She has continually participated in National Heritage Celebration events and has partnered with many different community organizations to collect donations of food, clothing, gifts, books and other fundraisers for the needy and less unfortunate. Her passion and dedication were highlighted in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, which devastated Puerto Rico.
Commander Blanca Rosas, U.S. Coast Guard
“Initially, I joined the military to take advantage of the educational opportunities it offered,” states Commander Blanca Rosas. “After I joined the U. S. Coast Guard, I realized the military was a lot more than just a step for a better education; it was an opportunity to serve my country in a way I never expected.” Commander Rosas has demonstrated superb leadership skills, she led interagency operations to advance the Nation’s maritime safety, security, and environmental stewardship throughout the Florida Keys. “There are many things I love about my job, specifically serving amongst an elite group of professionals who share a passion for protecting and caring for people,” she shares. “We are here to do the job and be ready for when we are needed. In addition, my military career has given me the opportunity to serve as an example and mentor for younger women in the military. As a Latina, I am humbled for the opportunity and proud of my organization.” She is a mentor who had a positive impact on over 500 members through her support to multiple diversity, inclusion and professional development events specifically designed to reach underrepresented groups within the United States Sea Services. Her passion for continuous education has inspired junior members to pursue higher degrees of education resulting in five subordinates selected to Coast Guard graduate programs. Commander Rosas’ inspirational leadership serves as the model for others to follow. “The military has helped me develop many skills such as leadership, mentoring, public speaking, and becoming a more independent individual,” she shares. “Currently, I serve as the President for the National ANSO. Thanks to the opportunities afforded to hone the leadership skills learned throughout my military career, I find myself in a privileged position to lead this great organization.”
Cadet First Class Christina Marie Gonzales U.S., Coast Guard Academy
Cadet First Class Christina Marie Gonzales is recognized for outstanding achievement. Demonstrating superior dedication and initiative as a model student, athlete, and leader, she has thrived in all aspects of cadet like and positively influences those around her, seniors and subordinates alike. Her exemplary military bearing and distinguished record of performance earned her a highly visible summer assignment as the X-ray Company Commander on summer staff for the indoctrination of the class of 2023. There she oversaw two-first class platoon commanders and the leadership development and indoctrination of 42 cadre and 72 swabs. This past semester she was on the Board of Trustee’s List, demonstrating her well-roundedness in academics, military, and athletics. This past summer she served aboard USCGC HARRIET LANE where she guided over 30 senior officers of the USAF, Army, Navy, and USMC including members of foreign military, on a tour of the Coast Guard asset. She has brought great credit upon herself and the Coast Guard Academy, the Coast Guard and the Department of Homeland Security through her strong advocacy for the Latino Community.
First Lieutenant Mairim M. Cosme, U.S. Army National Guard
“I joined the military to make a difference,” states 1st Lt. Mairim M. Cosme. “I wanted a career that would challenge me mentally, physically and morally all while affording me different opportunities.” As the 3-142d AHB CBRN Officer, she was responsible for the training of over 300 Soldiers in how to deploy CBRN equipment and how to recognize and respond to a CBRN attack. In her role as the ACFT project officer she was responsible for the ordering and staging of the new equipment over four locations encompassing three states; the qualification of 112 ACFT graders from numerous units over six different states; introduced and administered the ACFT to all key leaders (CSMs and LTC-MG) within the NY Army National Guard; and the testing, tracking, and reporting of diagnostic test #1 to Army leadership at the national level. “The best part of my job is interacting, training and helping Soldiers,” she shares. “A life lesson that I’ve learned from Military life is, how you hold yourself in the small things in life, build the character winning blocks of the things we are remembered for.” She has demonstrated superb, selfless leadership and represented the Latin community with great pride and distinction. Today she has acquired discipline and more. “It’s about doing the things you don’t want to do because that is what actually needs to get done,” she states. “No excuses. Be confident in your abilities to succeed. Take on the most challenging tasks and achieve great things.”