Defending our Country, Latinas Serving in the Military

According to the Department of Defense statistics, Latinos make up 17 percent of active-duty service members. The Marine Corps has the highest percentage (23 percent) of Latino active-duty members. Meet 22 courageous Latinas fighting for our freedom at home and abroad.

Major Lynmarie Rivera
Brigade Judge Advocate, U.S. Army

Enlisting in the Army Reserve in 2004, and later Commissioned through the University of Puerto Rico ROTC in 2010 as a JAG Corps Educational Delay,Puerto Rican born Major Rivera has always been passionate about helping her community and serving others. A third-generation servicemember aspiring to become a lawyer, growing up watching her dad serve was her best inspiration to join. And although joining the Army wasn’t her first career choice, the benefits of joining were appealing. “It was not until my father discussed with me the benefits of joining the service and how they could help me achieve my goals that I considered joining,” she shares. “Coming from a middle-class family, I knew we could not afford to pay for my undergrad and law school, so we had to look at other options. My mother was not very supportive because I was only 17 years old. Eventually, she supported my decision to join the military because she understood it was going to help me achieve my dream to become an attorney.”

Desiree Aguilar
Clinical Nurse, U.S. Army

I became a civil service GS RN at a military hospital because I love giving back and helping care for people,” shares Desiree Aguilar, Clinical Nurse on 5T Bone Marrow Transplant Inpatient Unit, Brooke Army Medical Center, Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston. “It’s an honor and humbling to care for our military members and their beneficiaries.” Aguilar shares that she always knew from a young age that she wanted to work in the medical field. “As an oncology and Bone Marrow Transplant nurse, the best part is when our patients ring the bell on our unit when they are cancer free,” she shares.

Aguilar has been an inspiration to countless Latina airmen, officers, and coworkers past and present who find themselves on 5T pursuing careers in oncology and higher-level education in nursing. She is the primary preceptor for all military officers assigned to the inpatient unit and spearheads the Competency Assessment Program for all nursing staff.

SFC Madelyne M. Rodriguez
Battery First Sargeant, U.S. Army

Born in Mao Valverde, Dominican Republic, SFC Madelyne M. Rodriguez enlisted in the United States Army in 2003. She attended Basic Combat Training in Fort Jackson, South Carolina and Advance Individual Training for 92A, Automated Logistical Specialist, in Fort Lee, Virginia. She later reclassified to 92Y, Unit Supply Specialist. “I joined the military for the education benefits and because I wanted to travel,” she shares. “I needed to grow and figure out who I was. I wanted to find my purpose and be a part of something greater.” Re-enlisting indefinitely in 2013 while working with the Advance Individual Training students in Fort Lee, VA, SFC Rodriguez shares it was one of the most fulfilling assignments in her military career. Today, the best part of her job is taking care of Soldiers, coaching, and mentoring them. The hardest part is being apart from her family. “I’ve spent a lot of time deployed or training and it never gets any easier,” she shares. “It’s important for my kids to understand why I serve and to know that they are important and valued.”

Captain Joana Migdalia Martínez
Battalion Plans Officer/ Company Commander, U.S. Army

Commissioned into the U.S. Army Engineer Corps in May 2015, CPT Joana Migdalia Martínez is an outstanding Military Leader and Company Grade Officer. Currently serving as both the Battalion Plans Officer for the 321st Engineer Battalion and as 391st Engineer (MA) Commander, CPT Martinez made history as the first woman to command the unit since its creation in 1942. CPT Martinez is a leader that confidently assumes any role or duty assigned to her with poise and distinction. CPT Martinez recognizes that it is vital that Soldiers understand there should be a balance between military and personal life. Throughout her tenure as Company Commander, she set time aside during Battle Assembly to aid Soldiers with their resumes, conduct mock interviews, and proofread college admissions essays. This resulted in the admission of two Soldiers into collegiate or trade schools, one Soldier getting a government job using their military skills, one Officer getting accepted into the AGR program, and one Soldier pursuing their dream of making a podcast that provides military members with resources to be their best self.

Staff Sergeant Amanda A. Phelps
U.S. Marine Corps

Staff Sergeant Amanda A. Phelps epitomizes the core values of the Marine Corps. Her contributions and noteworthy service in support of the Global War on Terrorism and mentorship of the future. Staff Sergeant Phelps joined the military at 19 years old to serve her country and better her life. The first and only of her family to join the Military, the best part of her job is meeting people who have been a part of her journey, many of whom she considers family. Staff Sergeant Phelps has deployed in support of multiple operations and exercises across the range of military operations. As a squad leader in Yemen, she was responsible for over $75,000 worth of weapons, equipment, and gear while she supervised entry control point operations, post-security operations, and numerous security patrols.

Master Sergeant Carmen Christman
U.S. Marine Corps

“I joined the military looking for a purpose,” shares Master Sergeant Carmen Christman, USMC. “I wanted to be an archeologist, but that plan didn’t work out, and I didn’t want to go to college without a goal. Instead, I joined the military and was given a job and experience until I could figure out a degree plan.” Master Sergeant Christman transferred to I MEF G-4 in February 2022 as the Assistant Operations Chief and is directly responsible for all current and future logistical support for I MEF units. Today, the best part of her job is to be able to network with people from different backgrounds and countries. “I have learned so much from every single person I have met,” she shares. “I have also travelled and have gained life experience that I don’t think a lot of civilians get a chance to.”

Dora Rodriguez
Adjutant/IVAO, U.S. Marine Corps

“I was 20 years old when I joined the Marine Corps, and I knew immediately I wanted to make the military my career,” shares Dora Rodriguez. “My family was not surprised; however, my friends were, they always thought of me as a girly girl not a combat warrior!” As the MCIWEST-MCB CAMPEN Adjutant, she supports the Headquarters and operating forces, tenant commands, and regional installations by providing general administrative services that are responsive to the needs of Marines, Sailors, civilian personnel, and their families. Beyond her normal general administrative duties, she manages a multitude of other key programs such as Installation Voting Assistance Office (IVAO), Regional e-Records Management Program, Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), Regional Privacy Act Program, Military Funeral Honors and the Commanding General’s Award Program. As a retired Marine, Rodriguez believes she has the best of both worlds of working with both Marines and civilians. Today, the biggest lesson she has learned was the need to grow thick skin, to not let everything bother her, and to remain positive.

Sandra E. Guzman
Hospital Corpsman First Class (SW/AW), U.S. Navy

“I joined at 17 years old because my dream is to be a doctor and I needed a way to pay for school,” shares Hospital Corpsman First Class (SW/AW) Sandra E. Guzman. “The military has given me some really great opportunities not in the career field that I want but it has also given me a lot of life lessons. I knew I wanted to make the military a career from the moment I signed the papers, because I saw how excited my parents were when they found out that I would be retired and receiving a pension by the age of 37. The reason for my parents’ excitement is coming from a traditional Mexican household, working for an organization for 20 years and receiving medical benefits plus a retirement check for the rest of my life was amazing.” Born in San Jose, California, she spent most of her childhood being raised between Jalisco, Mexico and Garden City, Kansas. Today her family has been the driving force to stay in the Navy. “They never had really considered the thought of the military as a place for opportunities,” she shares. “After speaking to a recruiter and me living this life, they are so grateful that I continue ­­to stay. For them they never wanted to see their kids struggling like they struggled when they came to this country.” HM1 Guzman is currently assigned to Navy Talent Acquisition Group (NTAG) Nashville serving as a Medical Officer Recruiter. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Sports and Health Sciences from American Military University.

Lieutenant Hailey Guerra
U.S. Navy

“I joined the military because I always felt called to public service,” shares Lieutenant Hailey Guerra. “I spent a lot of time thinking about how I could serve my country and community. The military was on my mind as a way to serve and pay for school, but I wasn’t sure if I was cut out for the military, especially because I knew I wanted to practice law and was not sure how to do both. As I learned about the JAGC, it seemed like a great option. While I was initially nervous about what that type of commitment would mean, I just had this feeling that I would regret it if I didn’t join. After meeting a Navy Judge Advocate and hearing about his experiences I was sold.” Raised in a large Cuban-American family in Miami, FL, LT Hailey Guerra, JAGC, USN, attended the University of North Florida in 2012. In 2020, LT Guerra earned her juris doctor and became licensed to practice law in North Carolina. Following Officer Development School and Naval Justice School, LT Guerra served at Region Legal Service Office Southwest in San Diego, California as a command services attorney and legal assistance attorney. In December 2021, LT Guerra reported to Defense Service Office West and currently serves as Defense counsel.

Senior Airman Alexis Sanchez
U.S. Air Force

Senior Airman Alexis Sanchez is a C-17A Loadmaster assigned to the 517th Airlift Squadron at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Anchorage, Alaska. Born in Miami, Florida, she attended the University of South Carolina, graduating Magna Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Science in Exercise Science in 2018. Senior Airman Sanchez subsequently enlisted in the United States Air Force in January 2020. Upon graduation, she received a direct-duty assignment to the 517th Airlift Squadron, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson AFB, Alaska, arriving in November 2020. Senior Airman Sanchez has excelled at her assignment as a C-17A Loadmaster and Airman. SrA Sanchez achieved the position of primary loadmaster in under ten months and completed a deployment supporting the retrograde of Afghanistan and Iraq. Senior Airman Sanchez has operated on the C-17A as a critical crew member for aeromedical evacuation, humanitarian, and Presidential support missions around the globe. Additionally, she has served in various positions, including squadron booster club rep, FTAC facilitator, CSS troop, and scheduler. She is currently working towards a master’s degree in Supply Chain Management at American Military University and obtaining her Private Pilot License.

Captain Kimberly L. Soltero
U.S. Air Force

Part of my motivation to join the military was because my father served in the Air Force for 20 years,” shares Captain Kimberly L. Soltero, U.S. Air Force. “I suppose it was in my blood to serve in a way. I have always had the desire to grow as a person and a leader. I wanted to make my father proud by becoming a person of character as he was. He passed away in 2005 from cancer when I was only nine. I focused on my academics and participated in Army JROTC at my high school, attended the military academy summer seminars, and felt aligned with their values and lessons. Ultimately, the United States Air Force Academy (USAFA) set me on my career path.” Captain Kimberly Soltero is the acting chief of scheduling, 93rd Air Refueling Squadron, Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington. She leads a team of schedulers executing a flying hour program of over 2,100 flying hours valued at $15M annually. Captain Soltero is also a Language Enabled Airmen Program (LEAP) member and is a Spanish translator for the Department of Defense. Capt Soltero’s career began with her admittance into The United States Air Force Academy, United States Military Academy, and the Coast Guard Academy. She attended the U.S. Air Force Academy from 2014-2018; graduated with a bachelor’s in science, studied Philosophy and minored in Spanish. Capt Soltero commissioned into the Active Air Force on 23 May 2018. In October 2018, she began the rigorous Undergraduate Pilot Training program at Laughlin Air Force Base in Del Rio, Texas.

Cadet First Class Shakira Colon Madera
U.S. Air Force

Cadet First Class Shakira Colon Madera is a Diversity and Inclusion officer for Squadron 22 at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and the Senior representative for USAF Academy’s Hispanic Heritage Club. She conducts critical conversations within her squadron regarding issues with diversity and its importance for the Air Force. The mission of the Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) officer is to serve as the U.S. Air Force Academy’s strategic leader in structuring a shared vision of diversity and inclusion. Her job aids with the transformation of future Air and Space Force leaders in creating a culture and climate where diversity strengthens all personnel. Cadet First Class Colon Madera was born and raised in Yauco, Puerto Rico. She came to the United States on 2015 and began her career in the Air Force as an enlisted member as a Pharmacy Technician in December 2016. After two years and a half, she decided to become an Officer and was elected to be a cadet at the Air Force Academy in 2019. First Class Cadet Shakira Colon has distinguished herself as a leader, mentor, and as an advocate of diversity because she has encouraged the full integration of Latina women in the U.S. Air Force. As a prior enlisted airmen attending the Academy, she has served as a role model for other cadets by embodying the Air Force’s core values of integrity first, service before self, and excellence in all she does.

Senior Airman Nicole A. Rodriguez Fernandez
Sensor Operator, USAF

“I never thought of the military being a lifelong career for me when I joined in 2018,” shares Senior Airman Nicole A. Rodriguez Fernandez, Sensor Operator, USAF. “After four years of service I have seen my exponential growth in all areas of life, learned so many valuable life lessons and been given the opportunity to thrive that I can now see the military having a presence in my life for a very long time. I am currently 26 years old and joined the Air Force Reserves in June 2022 in order to maintain my military career while still pursuing a civilian career path. I plan to stay in the reserves for the foreseeable future.” Senior Airman Rodriguez Fernandez grew up in Bayamon, Puerto Rico and enlisted in the United States Air Force on June 26, 2018. She completed Basic Military Training (BMT) at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas in August 2018. After completing BMT, she began her yearlong training journey to become a Sensor Operator. Senior Airman Rodriguez Fernandez is a Sensor Operator Flight Examiner for the 91st Attack Squadron (ATKS) at Creech Air Force Base, Nevada. The 91 ATKS is a United States Air Force Reserve Squadron under the 926th Wing, Air Reserve Component that operates the MQ-9 Reaper. The 91 ATKS works as a Total Force Integrated (TFI) team attached to the 17 ATKS providing Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance, and kinetic effectiveness to overseas contingency operations.

Lieutenant Maria McElhaney
U.S. Coast Guard

Lieutenant Maria McElhaney moved to the United States from Spain in 2007 and joined the Coast Guard in 2008. A middle school Spanish teacher at an Army base in Maryland, she learned of the benefits the military offered to members, to include the G.I. Bill, an expedited path to citizenship, full medical coverage for members and dependents, and more. After an unfruitful visit at a different service’s Recruiting Office, she visited a Coast Guard Recruiting Officer and the rest is history. “My reasons for joining were not selfless by any means,” she shares. “So for me, the more important question is not what made me join, but what led me to stay all these years. And that answer is without a doubt our people and the feeling of belonging to the organization and the country the Coast Guard has provided me.” Enlisting at 25 years old, Lieutenant McElhaney shares that she never intended to make it a career, however, she decided to stay and today she is the Executive Officer, Marine Safety Unit (MSU) Cleveland, where she is responsible for executing the Coast Guard’s Port Safety and Security, Marine Environmental Protection, and Commercial Vessel Safety missions from the Ohio/Pennsylvania border to Vermillion, OH.

Sheyla M. Matos
U.S. Coast Guard

Sheyla Matos serves as the subject matter expert in Naval Architecture and as the OPC Weight Control Program Coordinator overseeing all weight control efforts for the OPC program. In a former role, she has served as Principal for Safety (PFS) for the Unmanned Influence Sweep System (UISS), Mine Hunting Vehicle (MHU) and safety lead for the integration of the Clandestine Mine (CDM). Prior to serving as PFS, she served as a mechanical engineer and subject matter expert at the Naval Sea Logistic Center (NSLC) providing support to the Level I SubSafe and Deep Submergence System platforms. Previous experiences from private industry include serving as a Proposal Engineer for Loesche America, Inc.; Design Engineer for Kolberg Pioneer, Inc. and Plant Design Engineer for FLSmdith. Matos was a former mechanical engineer at the NAVSEA Naval Surface Warfare Center, Panama City, Florida. She has over 10 years of experience in mechanical and systems engineering, with three years at the USCG OPC PRO. She has worked in the fields of propulsion and power engineering, civil engineering, mining engineering, design of thermal systems, cement and aggregate industry, naval architecture, systems engineering and project management of diversified portfolio of projects.

Petty Officer Johanna Polanco Garcia
U.S. Coast Guard

“I joined the military to make a difference in the world,” shares Petty Officer Johanna Polanco Garcia, U.S. Coast Guard. “I was 17 when I joined and have loved the Coast Guard ever since.” Born and raised in the Dominican Republic until the age of 11, and a native of New Jersey Petty Officer Johanna Polanco Garcia enlisted in the Coast Guard in May 2007. Shortly after completing basic training Petty Officer Polanco Garcia was assigned to Station Woods Hole, MA. During her tour at station Woods Hole, she received voluntary orders to assist with the British Petroleum oil spill that affected the gulf in 2009. In 2014 she received title 10 orders for Surface Forces Logistics Center as an independent duty storekeeper. From 2015-2021 Petty Officer Polanco Garcia had two other title 10 assignments in El Paso, TX alongside BP agents and custom workers as a Chief Financial Officer during the migrant operations and Sector Alameda as the COVID Supply Director. Finally, she integrated back into active duty and is now attached to the Coast Guard Cutter Escanaba. Today the military has taught Polanco Garcia structure and ingrained the idea of having great leaders. And although being a Christian and a single mother are the biggest challenges in her career, her strength comes from God.

ENS Olivia Gonzalez Cadet
U.S. Coast Guard

“Growing up in a community with many military members, I got to know many members of the service through mentorship opportunities in my local area,” shares ENS Olivia Gonzalez, Cadet, USCG. “Seeing the close-knit comradery these groups share and learning more about the humanitarian mission of the Coast Guard is what ultimately inspired me to join the military.” ENS Gonzalez was 10 years old when she expressed interest in joining the Coast Guard and joined at 17 years old. “One particular memory that comes to mind as a deciding factor for joining the military was watching the incoming swabs complete their bootcamp,” she shares. “Watching as they marched alongside one another, I admired their resilience and strength. I am so grateful to be a part of the service alongside members I watched in admiration a decade ago and so grateful for the strong sense of community the service has provided me with.” Serving to protect the safety of lives at sea is the best part of her job. “Seeing the look of gratitude on a migrant’s face when I can speak to them in their mother tongue, giving water to someone who spent days lost at sea, and working alongside a wonderful crew on USCGC Dauntless while carrying out this mission makes me proud to serve in the Coast Guard,” she shares. “One aspect of the military I greatly appreciate is that it does not matter who you are or where you are from, we all serve in the same mission. Learning and valuing this common goal has been one of my greatest “life lessons” the military has provided me with.”

Staff Sergeant Reyna Ponce
U.S. National Guard

“Initially, I joined because I wanted more for myself and my family,” shares Staff Sergeant Reyna Ponce, U.S. National Guard, of her military journey. “In order to do so, I needed to go back to school and complete a degree. Only thing was that I couldn’t afford too. When I researched options, the military was a good way to have your schooling paid for.”

Staff Sergent Ponce was raised in Meriden, CT with limited opportunities. At a young age, she quickly learned to take care of herself. She got to see firsthand the paths she could take when older. Staff Sergeant Ponce shares the time she was helping the National Guards Recruiting Sustainment Program (RSP) and enjoying the feeling of helping out new Soldiers. It was then at 23 years old that she realized she wanted to make a career out of it. Today she works hard not only for her family, but to keep making strides in gender equality. “Some of the challenges I would say was working hard to make a name for myself, gender discrimination, and sexual harassment,” she shares. “Failure is the greatest teacher. No one likes the feeling of defeat, but you actually learn more from your failures than your achievements.” Her advice is to “Don’t just keep your head down and work hard,” she shares. “Network. Having a mentor worked for me. Elevate yourself and your family not just by your income, but by your networking. I want people to remember me as an encourager, passion chaser, and difference maker. All of those verbs require action, and that’s the legacy I want to leave.”

Neosensys Gottal
U.S. National Guard

“I joined the military because I wanted a better future for me and my family,” shares Neosensys Gottal, California National Guard’s Purchasing and Contracting, Chief of Compliance, e-Business, and Integration, U.S. National Guard. “I also did not have any means to go to college and the military provided an amazing opportunity for me to see the world and work with a diverse workforce. I started working as a civilian because of the opportunity to continue serving this country, that has given me so many opportunities.” Born in the Dominican Republic, Gottal is a lifelong learner, mother, wife, veteran, and civilian member of the Defense Acquisition Workforce. “I was 18 when I joined,” she shares. “I knew then that I was going to serve or work with the military for the foreseeable future.”

Master Sergeant Thelma Cecilia Barrios
U.S. National Guard

“I don’t believe I ever made the decision to make it a career path, it just developed into doing a job I enjoyed and took pride in,” shares Master Sergeant Thelma Cecilia Barrios, U.S. National Guard. “Twenty-three years later I still enjoy taking care of Soldiers and helping them in their career path. I tell everyone I am still deciding what I want to do when I grow up.” Born in Laredo, TX, and raised in Chicago, Barrios enlisted in the Illinois Army National Guard in January 1999. She attended Basic Combat Training and Advanced Individual Training at Fort Jackson, SC, where she was awarded the MOS 71L, Administrative Specialist. She was promoted to the Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) Corp 2007 as a 42A2O, Human Resources NCO. MSG Barrios attended Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, and was awarded the MOS of 68J, Medical Logistics in 2008. MSG Barrios is currently assigned as the Senior Human Resources NCO for the 108th Sustainment Brigade, Chicago, IL. MSG Barrios’ military education includes Battle Staff NCO Course, Equal Opportunity Leaders Course, ARNG Battalion Career Counselor Course, Advanced NCO Course, Basic NCO Course, and Warrior Leader Course. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Business Administration Management from Robert Morris University. Mentoring Soldiers and seeing them progress through the ranks is the best part of her job. “Knowing I was able to encourage, equip and support an individual so they can become an effective leader that has great impact on our organization is very rewarding,” she shares. “I hope to mentor our future leaders that understand that a great team is built by lifting and empowering those that we are tasked to lead. That females make great leaders and it doesn’t matter where you come from or what your culture is.”

MIDN Amanda Morales Cadet
U.S. Naval Academy

Midshipman First Class Amanda Morales distinguished herself through exemplary service as a Second Class Midshipman in the 7th Company, 2nd Battalion, United States Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland, from June 2021 to May 2022. MIDN Morales displayed unparalleled selfless leadership as a Second Class Midshipman Squad Leader during her junior year, a position normally reserved for First Class Midshipmen in their senior year. MIDN Morales had a positive impact on countless others through participation in the Naval Academy International Programs Office’s semester abroad program, sharing our culture with the students of the Spanish Naval Academy while immersing herself in the language and culture of the Spanish Navy. MIDN Morales’ efforts personify her absolute dedication to duty, ­­commitment to excellence, and genuine care for midshipmen’s welfare.

MIDN Alondra Reyes
Cadet, U.S. Naval Academy

A native of Pascagoula, Mississippi, Midshipman 2/C Alondra Reyes is currently a junior at the United States Naval Academy. She reported for her first year in June 2020. Midshipman 2/C Reyes is a History major with a Spanish minor. She has studied and completed summer training abroad in the Middle East, visiting Israel, in addition to domestic locations aboard ships and alongside Marines. Midshipman 2/C Reyes has held various leadership positions while at the Academy. She has served as the Public Affairs Officer for the Latin American Studies Club (LASC), an organization of more than 200 members. She has also served as the Executive Officer for the Diversity Peer Educator Program. Most recently, Midshipman 2/C Reyes has served as a Detailer for the USNA class of 2026, leading incoming freshmen in the transition from civilian to military life.