Selfless Dedication and Servant Leadership in the U.S. Military

By Gloria Romano-Barrera

They serve with honor, dedication, and courage. Meet 17 Latinas supporting the mission through their duties as they set an example to their peers. Each epitomizes the military’s core values and are role models for the next generation of Latina leaders in the Armed Forces.

U.S. Army Major Lidilia Garcia
United States Military Academy Department of Behavioral Sciences & Leadership

“It is an honor to play a role in developing our nation’s future leaders,” shares Major Lidilia Garcia. “I want my legacy to be that I enlarged the circle and created opportunities for Latinas to showcase their intellectual capacity and talent. We bring unique perspectives that foster diversity, inclusion, and multicultural competencies to West Point. My presence lets other Latinas know that if I am here, they can also be here. I want Latinas to be inspired by our trailblazing actions in the Armed Forces.” MAJ Garcia began her career on August 13, 1998, as a 75H, Personnel Service Specialist. She completed basic and advanced individual training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. MAJ Garcia currently serves as an instructor in the department of Behavioral Sciences and Leadership at the United States Military Academy. Her career encompasses both enlisted and officer ranks, which displays her critical assignments in support of national defense. As one of the few Latinas, she served in various human resource positions in the 25th Infantry Division, Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. She deployed with 1-25 Aviation Regiment to Taji, Iraq, in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). Upon redeployment, MAJ Garcia was inducted into the Sergeant Audie Murphy Club. She was, then, selected to be a Drill Sergeant and reassigned to the 165th Infantry Brigade, Fort Jackson, South Carolina. In 2009, MAJ Garcia was accepted into the Green to Gold Active-Duty Option Program to become a U.S. Army Officer. She attended Chaminade University of Honolulu; and completed ROTC at the Warrior Battalion, University of Hawaii-Monoa. She commissioned into the Medical Service Corps and served as a Health Services Human Resources Manager (70F). Her motto is: “Somos Valientes y Podemos” – we are valiant, and we can. ­“My family’s sacrifices inspire me to persevere, especially my mother,” she shares. “When I think of her courage and determination, I am reminded that I can do hard things. I remember that I have a fighting spirit in my DNA.”

U.S. Army
CSM Llirenelli L. Mari-Ciriaco
Maneuver Support Capability Integration Development Directorate, SGM

“By joining the U.S. Army, I have had the opportunity to pursue my passion, achieve higher education, and earn the rank of Sergeant Major,” says Command Sergeant Major Llirenelli Mari-Ciriaco. “At age 29, I realized I wanted to make the Army a career upon my return from my first deployment to Bosnia-Herzegovina.” CSM Mari-Ciriaco enlisted in the Army on June 20, 1995, in San Juan, Puerto Rico. In 1994, SGM Mari-Ciriaco graduated from Basic and Advanced Initial Training at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri as a Technical Engineer Specialist (12T). With 26 years of service, SGM Mari-Ciriaco is the first Latina in senior enlisted ranks who achieved the rank of SGM in Combat Engineers in the history of the U.S. Army. CSM Mari-Ciriaco has served in leadership positions ranging from Team Leader to CSM. CSM Mari’s deployments include Operation Joint Endeavor- Bosnia Herzegovina; ARCENTKuwait, Bulgaria, Operation Enduring Freedom-Afghanistan, Operation Iraqi Freedom-Iraq, and Operation Freedom’s Sentinel-Afghanistan. “After multiple deployments, one of the most valuable life lessons I have learned is to stay true to your character,” she shares. “Focus on where you are going but, do not forget where you come from.” CSM Mari-Ciriaco hopes to positively influence the lives of everyone she works with. “The goal is to leave the organization better than I found it with the mark of a servant leader. “People First,” “I work for you, you don’t work for me.” Achieving the rank of Command Sergeant Major as one of the few Latinas in the field of Engineering shows that- “ Si se Puede.” Do not disqualify yourself, go make a difference. You can, and You will!”

U.S. Army
Ms. Delilah Ortiz-Meyer
Quality Manager, Defense Forensic Science Center Office of Quality, Initiatives, and Training

Delilah Ortiz-Meyer joined the Army as a Civilian Latent Print Examiner with the Forensic Exploitation Directorate. After the experience of her first deployment at age 28, she knew that the opportunities to be challenged and grow would be many and knew that working for the Army Crime Lab would be her career. “I had always been interested in the sciences, so the career choice of Forensic Scientist was not surprising, but the decision to work for the Army and be deployable was unexpected but supported,” she says. “The people. I’ve had the opportunity to meet and work with some of the leading Forensic Science practitioners and collaborate with U.S. and partner nation military and civilians across the world, and I have benefited from the diversity and experiences that each of them have shared with me. Bonus: I met my husband at this job.” Ortiz-Meyer began her service with the Expeditionary Forensics Division, now the Forensic Exploitation Directorate (FXD), in July 2010 as an examiner in the Latent Print branch. During her time with FXD, she served as a Certified Latent Print Examiner (CLPE) in the Global Forensic Exploitation Center (GFXC) and mobile expeditionary laboratories completing four deployments overseas and participating in subject matter expert exchanges with US and partner nations providing capabilities briefs and instruction to CID Agents and Armed Forces personnel in proper evidence handling and collection, techniques for capturing legible record prints, and field expedient processing methods. After approximately five years as an examiner, Ms. Ortiz-Meyer was detailed to the Office of Quality, Initiatives, and Training (OQIT) as the Latent Print Instructor to train latent print examiners, AFIS Technicians, and FXD Operations Specialists in latent print principles, theories, and technical processes. She was also selected for the role of Laboratory Manager for a new Forensic Exploitation Analysis Center in 2017, where she spearheaded logistical efforts in a joint environment to bring the site to Initial Operating Capability. Prior to joining the FXD, Delilah was a member of the Cold Case Investigation Team at The Henry C. Lee Institute of Forensic Science in West Haven, CT. There she assisted investigators by identifying alternative avenues for inquiry and assisted with the presentations of results and reports for investigating agencies. Her advice is not to make concessions in representing your authentic self and not allow your own preconceived notions about how others may view you to “regulate” your ambition or contributions. “As a member of the DFSC’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Working Group, I want to contribute to the development and sustainment of an organization-wide forum for creating awareness and dialogue – the kind of dialogue that can make us uncomfortable. In my lifetime, I have experienced both the discomfort of prejudice and the obliviousness of privilege, and I want to leverage the duality of that personal experience to foster a safe and embracing workplace culture.”

U.S. Marine Corps
Sgt. Mayra L. Arambulajaime

Currently working as a Drill Instructor with Series 4038, Platoon 4039, Sergeant Mayra L. Arambulajaime has consistently set herself apart from her peers. On every occasion, she has performed at the top of her class and impressed those senior and junior to her. Her infectious talent and character are unique and allow this Marine to soar beyond measure. Sergeant Armbulajaime is an outstanding role model for any Marine and truly represents the Latino community with pride and distinction. She is undoubtedly well deserving of consideration as the Marine Corps recipient for the 2021 Latina Style Distinguished Military Service Award. As a life-long learner, Sergeant Arambulajaime has continuously invested time in off-duty education and professional military education. From July 2020 to October 2020, Sergeant Arambulajaime balanced her duties as an 0111 (Administrator) with her desire to invest time in a college degree, completing four college courses worth a total of (13) college credits toward her ­­future degree. She also attended and successfully graduated from her Intermediate Administrative Course from August of 2020 to October 2020.

U.S. Marine Corps
Geraldina Sandoval
Sponsorship Coordinator III Marine Expeditionary Force (III MEF)

“I was always curious about the military life, but I decided to enlist in the U.S. Army because I was looking to work for an organization with structure, discipline, and job stability,” shares Geraldina Sandoval. “No other job could offer this along with time and resources to grow as a person and as a soldier. I was ready to be part of an organization that I can be proud of, and I knew I was going to see the world from a different perspective.” Although no longer on active duty, she still supports the military with volunteer and work with other Services as a Civilian. “By working with the active-duty Marines sometimes, it brings me back to when I was serving and the longing to putting my boots on again,” she shares. “It comforts me that I support in a different way now.” Born in San Salvador, El Salvador, Sandoval was deployed to Iraq with the 240th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion (240TH CSSB) from March 2010 to March 2011. While there, she completed a one-year deployment tour in Al Asad, Iraq, working closely with Base Command Group and being in charge of the base Official Mail Operations. She was also responsible for the 240th CSSB Rest and Relaxation Program and the Unit’s administrative department. From March 2011 to August 2012, Mrs. Sandoval’s next assignment was to the 49th Group Mail Room/Official Mail, Fort Lee, VA. She was in charge of overseeing the movement of personal mail for Soldiers assignment to the 49th Group and all the official mail for 530th Battalion and 49th Group. She separated from active duty on August 1st, 2012, with an honorable discharge. Sandoval has been awarded (2) Army Commendation Medal (2) Army Achievement Medal (1) Army Good Conduct Medal (1) National Defense Service Medal (1) Global War On Terrorism Service Medal (1) Iraq Campaign Medal with Campaign Star.

U.S. Navy
Lt. J.G. Ana P. Mier Valdivia
Strike Officer

“A big factor in my decision to choose the path of Naval service was my family’s history. My mom and grandparents emigrated from Cuba in 1980. They left a Communist regime in search of a better life, improved opportunities, and a democratic system,” shares Lt. J.G. Ana P. Mier Valdivia. “Choosing a lifestyle that allowed me to explore different career paths, challenge myself, and develop as a leader, while simultaneously serving my country, finalized my decision to join the military.” A native of Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, she attended Academia San Jose high school in her hometown and completed Summer Seminar at the United States Naval Academy in 2014, solidifying her decision to apply to the prestigious undergraduate program. She began her naval career in 2015 at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. “During my tenure at the Naval Academy, I was exposed to all of the different communities the U.S. Navy had to offer,” she shares. “I decided to commission as a Surface Warfare Officer. In November 2019, I reported to the USS MICHAEL MURPHY (DDG 112), a guided-missile destroyer based out of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, where I assumed a leadership role as a division officer, specifically, the STRIKE Officer. Leading and managing Sailors, working towards a common mission, and making decisions in dynamic environments, instilled a sense of purpose and reassured that I had made the right career decision.” She has met people from all walks of life through military life that she would have otherwise not met had she stayed in Puerto Rico. This exposure has given her a renewed sense of diversity and the contributions and challenges of such a diverse workforce. “Military life has also provided education, financial stability, and unique opportunities,” she shares. “I have been able to serve in a leadership role very early on in my life—something I don’t think would have occurred had I chosen a different career path.”

U.S. Navy
Lorena Morales
Petty Officer 1st Class

Selflessly volunteering for a deployment, Petty Officer Lorena Morales was the epitome of a true warfighter in a time of great need, serving over 4,000 Sailors at sea. LN1 Morales is the Region Legal Service Office Southwest (RLSO SW) Detachment Leading Petty Officer (LPO) for offices in Lemoore, Monterey, and Fallon. She led the command services, legal assistance, and trial offices of the largest detachment and its branch offices, encompassing 610 warfighting commands. During the COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with the unanticipated impact to USS THEODORE ROOSEVELT and Commander, Carrier Strike Group NINE (CCSG-9), LN1 Morales was selected to deploy to the FIFTH and SEVENTH Fleet. At the last minute, her mission changed to deploy with CCSG-11 as the Flag Legalman. She immediately pivoted focus and departed for this assignment despite the significant impact on her four children and active-duty spouse. Morales is a role model, leader, and mentor everywhere she goes. Her level of leadership and commitment to improving the military and local communities have improved the morale and the professionalism of her shipmates. She embodies the Navy’s core values of honor, courage, and commitment daily and is deeply respected and lauded as an expert. “I believe that because of the military, I am more comfortable in a supervisory role,” she shares. “I always considered myself a great worker, but I doubted my leadership skills. The military has allowed me to be a leader, but most importantly, I have seen many leadership styles which allowed me to create my own.” Today, knowledge and organization is the mark she would like to leave behind. “When I first came to my command, I wanted to ensure we continuously trained and learned,” she shares. “I wanted to make sure our standard operating procedures were up to date and reviewed regularly. But most importantly, I wanted my junior Sailors to be aware of the various opportunities out there. I wanted to ensure they knew about the events happening around them. I wanted to ensure their morale stayed high.”

U.S. Navy
Ms. Glenda Padro
Production Support Supervisor NAVSUP FLC SD

Glenda Padro is a role model for young Latinos and Latinas, a military veteran who has succeeded past her military career. Born in Cojutepeque, El Salvador, the 9/11 attacks motivated her to join the military, so she joined the United States Army as an Information Technology Specialist. Padro was mobilized with the 2nd Medical Brigade and deployed to Bagdad, Iraq. She served with honor, courage, and commitment and completed her enlistment contract with honorable service in the Army. She relocated to Los Angeles, California and soon joined Federal service in 2014 with NAVSUP Fleet Logistics Center San Diego. Considered a professional committed to completing the command’s mission, while understanding the efforts required to climb the ladder of success, Padro takes pride in working for the U.S. Navy. “The best part of my job is working alongside professionals in their field,” Padro shares. “They make my job challenging and interesting at the same time.” Padro currently serves as the Production Support Supervisor for Industrial Support Department. Responsible for the Government Commercial Purchase Card (GCPC) program, she eliminated operational gaps by ensuring compliance with GCPC Navy and Local instructions. Managed the certification of 955 purchases worth $527K in support of South West Regional Maintenance Center (SWRMC), and provided immediate material needs for emergency repairs, ensuring minimal downtime for 61 PACFLT ships. She also manages customer service, leads 14 federal employees and 15 active-duty military personnel in processing an average of 13K items of material annually, ensuring material is ordered properly, tracked for delivery, and turned over to the customer with minimal delays. She also manages the Distribution of Material Availability Program (DMAP), screening PACFLT ships for immediate high priority material requirements resulting in saving SWRMC $110K in funding.

U.S. Air Force
Lt. Col. Cindy Serrano Roberts
Chief, Pacific Air Forces Force Support Inspections

“I was 21 years old serving in Kuwait on my first deployment in support of Operation Southern Watch when I saw first-hand the Air Forces global reach and impact, says Lieutenant Colonel Cindy Serrano Roberts. “During that time, I worked closely with our Sister Services and Allies and knew that this mission was something I wanted to be a part of for a long time.” Lieutenant Colonel Serrano Roberts is the Chief, Force Support Inspections, Headquarters Pacific Air Forces, Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii. She is responsible for the operational readiness and conducting unit effectiveness inspections on 13 wings and 3 NAFs throughout PACAF. Additionally, she has worked all elements of legacy Services activities at base level and managed Majcom and HAF personnel programs. Major Roberts also served as the Garrison Deputy Contracting Officer at a deployed location in support of the Army. Lt Col Roberts is a strong advocate and leader as the Air Force addressed overall readiness and retention when she helped craft testimony to Congress on this important issue. Her expertise on a wide array of issues makes her a sought-after expert in a variety of forums. Coming from a military family who has served in various branches, she believed the Air Force offered the opportunity to further her education. She has obtained her B.A., M.A. and currently working towards a Ph.D. in Social Policy Analysis and Planning with the support of the Post 911 GI Bill and Tuition Assistance. “I think that the ability to decode the culture of an organization is always a challenge when you don’t have a hand to guide you,” she shares. “Once I found my first mentor who really taught me what it meant to develop my own personal leadership style, I became equipped to reframe challenges. I learned that my authenticity coupled with experience would enable me to acquire the skills that I needed to get to the other side of whatever I was facing successfully.” Today she encourages every Latina to dream big and collect a cast of mentors from various backgrounds immediately. “Be the first, do the hard things and when you fall short (because we all do at some point), take care of yourself and bounce back,” she shares. “The world needs you and your talents!”

U.S. Air Force
Senior Master Sgt. Erika Luna
Lead Weapon Systems Support Manager Logistics Readiness Division, Directorate of Logistics, Engineering and Force Protection

Senior Master Sergeant Erika Luna is a Lead Weapon Systems Support Manager assigned to the Materiel Management Branch, Logistics Readiness Division, Directorate of Logistics, Engineering and Force Protection, Headquarters Pacific Air Forces at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii. She is responsible for providing logistical support to 326 assigned aircraft across fourteen weapon systems located at nine installations. Additionally, Sergeant Luna oversees the management of 413 million dollars in Readiness Spares Packages, ensuring the availability of eighteen thousand critical aircraft parts. Sergeant Luna evaluates key performance indicators assessing logistical readiness capabilities to mitigate supply issues affecting the Command in executing assigned missions. Sergeant Luna hails from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and graduated from Northwest Classen High School in 2001. She entered the Air Force in March 2003 and completed Supply Management Technical Training in July 2003 as a distinguished graduate. Sergeant Luna has served in various sections within the Materiel Management career field throughout seven duty assignment locations and deployments to FOB Falcon, Iraq, Camp Taji, Iraq, and Al Udeid AB, Qatar. Prior to her current position, she served in a competitively selective logistics development program as a Materiel Management ­Enlisted Career Broadener assigned to the 448th Supply Chain Management Wing, Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma. Her military awards include the Meritorious Service Medal with one oak leaf cluster, the Air Force Commendation Medal with one first oak leaf cluster, Army Commendation Medal, and Air Force Achievement Medal with one oak leaf cluster.

U.S. Air Force
Ms. Hope Barber
Dept of the Air Force Force Renewal Team Lead Financial Management Career Field Team Air Force Personnel Center

“After spending several years in the private sector, I joined the federal civilian service in 2013,” she shares. “I was a military spouse looking for a way to start and grow my professional career, while supporting my active-duty husband during several relocations. Immediately after joining the federal service, I knew it was a perfect fit because it combined my desire to help others while serving my country.” Hope Barber is a Supervisory Career Field Administrator on the Financial Management (FM) Career Field Team (CFT), Talent Management Division, Headquarters Air Force Personnel Center, JBSA Randolph, TX. Ms. Barber is currently the force renewal team lead serving the Air Force financial management enterprise through innovative recruitment and retention strategies to achieve our Human Capital and mission-critical occupation objectives. Ms. Barber works closely with financial management senior leadership to support AF corporate force renewal processes and compliance with law and AF policy objectives. “I LOVE people. I get to help folks be successful in their careers daily. It’s amazing!” she says. “I also love being able to help other mil-spouses continue their federal careers while supporting their active-duty spouse.” Mrs. Barber began her federal career in 2013 at Ramstein AB, Germany as a Budget Analyst for the 603d Air Operations Center (AOC). She held positions of increased responsibility with both the Dept of the Air Force and Dept of the Army. Prior to her current role, she served as a Management Analyst in the Plans, Analysis & Integration Office, US Army Garrison, Installation Management Command, Fort Riley, KS. She played a critical role during COVID-19 operations and successfully developed a matrix that informed soldiers, families, and Civilians of service impacts during COVID mitigation. Mrs. Barber is a second-generation Mexican-American and the first in her family to serve as a civilian in the federal service.

U.S. Coast Guard
Captain Jo-Ann F. Burdian
Commander, U.S. Coast Guard Sector Miami

“Service was at the center of my family,” shares Captain Jo-Ann F. Burdian. “My father was a New York City Police Officer, and my mother was an emergency room nurse before she decided to stay at home to raise my sister and me. When I was looking for ways to pay for college, the U.S. Coast Guard Academy seemed like a natural fit. I did not know much about the military or the Coast Guard. It is the least informed, best decision I ever made.” Captain Burdian serves as Commander of U.S. Coast Guard Sector Miami, in Miami, Florida, overseeing and directing all Coast Guard missions along 182 miles of Florida coastline, including Port Miami, the Miami River, Port Everglades, and the Port of Palm Beach. She serves as Captain of the Port, Officer in Charge of Marine Inspection, Federal Maritime Security Coordinator, Search and Rescue Mission Coordinator, and Federal on Scene Coordinator for the over 250,000 square miles that constitute Sector Miami’s area of responsibility. Captain Burdian is a Coast Guard Permanent Cutterman and Honorary Chief whose previous operational assignments include Chief of Response at Sector Puget Sound in Seattle, Washington, Commanding Officer of USCGC Key Biscayne in St. Petersburg, Florida, and Executive Officer of USCGC Attu in San Juan, Puerto Rico. “The best thing about my job is the opportunity to serve alongside the incredible professional leaders who serve in our Coast Guard. In my current command, I supervise over 800 Coast Guard members. I am inspired every day by their ingenuity, professionalism, hard work, and generosity. They make me a better leader. I also truly enjoy meeting and working with my partners in the vibrant South Florida maritime community. There are incredibly talented people who work every day to support the marine transportation system that fuels our national economy and supports millions of jobs.” Captain Burdian also served as Coast Guard Liaison to the U.S. House of Representatives, where she managed all Service engagements with Members of Congress, advised senior Coast Guard leaders on all matters related to the House of Representatives, and advocated for multi-billion-dollar acquisition programs and advancing legislation. In addition, she stood as the Senior Duty Officer in the White House Situation Room. “I am motivated by the desire to improve the Coast Guard for the servicemembers who sail in my wake. In the same way Coast Guard trailblazers who served in the years before I joined made sacrifices to improve the Service for my generation of leaders, I feel a responsibility to enhance the Coast Guard I serve in for the benefit of those who may choose to wear the cloth of our nation after I retire.”

U.S. Coast Guard
Second Class Laura J. Morales
Operations Specialist

“America gave my family countless opportunities when they came over from Colombia,” shares Petty Officer 2nd Class Laura J. Morales of why she chose the military as a career. “I will always be grateful that I was born here. I joined to give back to the country that gave my family so much.” A native of Rutherford, New Jersey, and first-generation born to Colombian parents, Petty Officer Morales reported aboard Sector Buffalo in July 2019, where she currently serves as a Situation Unit Controller in the Command Center. As a Situation Unit Watch stander, she is responsible for tracking Blue Forces, maintaining situational awareness, and monitoring the common operating picture for Lake Erie, Lake Ontario, the Saint Lawrence Seaway, Niagara River, and the Erie Canal. Sector Buffalo encompasses an area of 570 miles and works closely with the Canadian Coast Guard and several other Government Agencies. A 2015 graduate of the University of North Carolina in Charlotte, North Carolina, she is the first in her family to graduate from a university and join the military. “The best part of my job is knowing we are there to save lives,” she shares. “When I joined the Coast Guard, my first unit was a boat out of Jacksonville, Florida. I will never forget the day my boss, a female, pulled me aside and told me to leave my feminity at the door because we have to work six times harder than men to prove ourselves. I remember it like it was yesterday. It was probably the best thing she could have said to me because from that moment on, I promised myself I would stay true to myself. Latina or not, being a female is powerful, we are capable of anything, and it should never stop us from doing amazing things. We can be as feminine as we want and still get the job done.”

U.S. Coast Guard
Ms. Carla Garcia
Force Readiness Command Business Operations Division, Chief Administration and External Affairs Branch

Carla Garcia serves as the Chief of Administration and External Affairs Branch at Force Readiness Command. In her role, she is responsible for all personnel support and administrative functions for the FORCECOM organization. Born and raised in Miami, Florida, Garcia moved to Washington, DC in August 2010 to work for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). While there, she held several administrative positions advising management of the full cycle of human resources management, including recruitment sources and performance management. As the first generation to attend college, Garcia graduated in June 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration Management from Florida International University. While pursuing her undergraduate degree in 2008, she was accepted in the Hispanics Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU) Internship Program and selected to participate in two four-month internships with USAID. Prior to her assignment at Force Readiness Command in January 2020, Carla was the Supervisory Legal Administrative Specialist at the Hampton VA Medical Center (HVAMC), where she was responsible for the management, design, direction, and supervision of the Office of Care in the Community program. Other career highlights include being the Compliance and Business Integrity Officer for the HVAMC; providing guidance and counsel for incorporating compliance-related activities into the operational areas of the hospital.

U.S. Coast Guard Academy
First Class Cadet Abigail Valadez

1/c Cadet Abigail Valadez has made a significant positive impact at the United States Coast Guard Academy. Valadez began her military career at the New Mexico Military Institute. She earned Battalion Commander for Army JROTC unit and oversaw the military training of four-hundred high school students. Despite the challenge of going to a prestigious military academy, she knew that the Coast Guard Academy was the place that could develop her into the leader that she aspired to be. In her three years at USCGA, she has managed hundreds of thousands of dollars in Coast Guard resources, has been a leader on the rugby field and in the pool, and helped pioneer the first virtual Academy Introductory Mission (AIM) program. “Ever since I was a kid, I loved being part of a team and contributing to something bigger than myself,” she shares. “The Coast Guard was introduced to me by my mom, who had several friends in the service, so I pursued the idea by attending the Academy Introduction Mission (AIM) Summer Program in my junior year of high school. After that week spent at the Academy, I was sold on the humanitarian mission of the Coast Guard as well as the educational opportunities that the Academy provided. I knew that there was nothing else that I even wanted to consider for my future other than service in the United States Coast Guard.” The military has taught Valadez a lot about taking care of others and about failure. Today, she uses her struggles as an opportunity to grow, embracing the instances of failure, and seeking opportunities to give and receive help has allowed her to take this challenge in stride. “One of the best pieces of advice I received before leaving for college was to keep a journal or otherwise monitor the different stages of your life,” she shares. “Since starting at the Academy, I have learned so much from being able to go back and read the pieces from when I started until now and track the ways I have progressed and the areas that I need to continue to focus on. Another piece of general advice is that you don’t have to validate who you are or where you come from to anyone. It is completely okay to just be proud of yourself and express your heritage in whatever way feels best for you.”

U.S. Army National Guard
Major Sandra A. Wright
Military Occupational Specialty: 12A, Engineer Officer

Enlisted in the Army as a Light Wheel Vehicle Mechanic at 17 years old, Major Sandra A. Wright loved everything about the Army and wanted to be a part of an elite team where everyone was committed to the same mission. “I am extremely grateful for the life I get to give being born and raised in the US, which could have easily been another country where I may not have had the opportunity to go to school, study engineering, hold my own job, live on my own, and more,” she shares. “Joining the Army was my way of giving back to the country that has blessed me so much.” Major Sandra A. Wright is an Engineer Officer assigned to the 29TH Infantry Division and forward deployed to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as the Officer-in-Charge for all engineer projects in the country. Major Wright distinguished herself as a leader, mentor, and advocate of diversity and the full integration of Latinas in the Armed Forces from August 2020 to June 2021. She expertly led a Task Force for COVID-19 Support Missions within the State of Maryland, supporting screening at the State Capitol and distribution of personal protective equipment for the State Police. Leading up to the 2021 Presidential Inauguration, she served as Joint Task Force DC’s Engineer, updating all units on Operation Capitol Response of the engineer obstacle plan with force protection measures around the Capitol Area. The distinctive accomplishments of Major Wright reflect credit upon herself, the Maryland Army National Guard, and The United States Army. Her military awards include the Armed Forces Reserve Medal, Army Commendation Medals, Army Reserve Component Achievement Award (for leading construction project building schools in El Salvador), Maryland State Service Awards, DC Service Awards (for supporting multiple Presidential Inaugurations), Maryland Army National Guard Association Company Grade Officer of the Year (2016), and Norwegian Foot March Badge.

U.S. Space Force
Specialist 4 Lesley S. Del Real

Spc4 Lesley S. Del Real is a Target Analyst & Reporter, 17th Intelligence Squadron, Joint Base Langley- Eustis, Virginia. She provides expert guidance to a 13-Airmen section charged with the timely production and dissemination of detailed, tailored, and actionable non-kinetic targeting intelligence to five Air Operations Centers, nine Combatant Commands, and multiple national-level partners. Her efforts directly support global full-spectrum military operations. Additionally, Spc4 Del Real serves as a squadron Initial Training Instructor, where she is responsible for preparing analysts from seventeen different Air Force Specialty Codes to function within the Air Force Targeting Enterprise. Specialist Del Real is from Salinas, California. She enlisted in the Air Force as a Fusion Analyst in July 2017 and completed technical training in December 2017. She was selected for transfer from the Air Force to the Space Force in February 2021.

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