Las Jefas: Latinas in the Military, A Growing Force

By Marisa Rivera

Senior Airman, Staff Select, Paulette Rivera, flying in a CV22 practice flight.

Women’s participation in the military has had a history that extends over 400 years worldwide, from Civil Wars, World Wars I and II to present conflicts. Women have been a presence in the United States military for decades and have worked to serve and defend the country for just as many.

According to the Defense Department, women now make up 20 percent of the Air Force, 19 percent of the Navy, 15 percent of the Army and almost 9 percent of the Marine, (DoD, Mar 11, 2019).

Throughout U.S. history, Latinas have also served proudly and bravely in all branches of our nation’s military. Five years after the Gulf War, Hispanic women comprised approximately six percent of enlisted women in the military and three percent of female officers. Today, Hispanic women are serving throughout the armed forces and breaking traditional barriers. The National Association of American Veterans states that more Latinas are serving in the Army than Latino men, according to the U.S. Army. In 2015, a profile of the military community revealed that Latinas cover 48 percent of the women in the U.S. military, (Latinas make up almost half of the Women in the Military, written by Dulce Candy, a Mexican-American blogger and Beauty YouTuber, who served as a soldier in Iraq, Nov. 9, 2018).

Senior Airman, Staff Select, Paulette Rivera, at the Air Force Memorial, Washington, D.C.

When I was researching to write this story, I was surprised and a bit curious. I decided to call my niece Paulette Rivera, Senior Airman, Staff Select in the U.S. Air Force and ask her why are Latinas/women joining the military in such record numbers. She answered my questions very candidly:

Marisa: Why did you decide to join the U.S. military?

Paulette: “I had several reasons, why I joined the Air Force. I wanted to become independent, self-sufficient and live away from home. I wanted to continue my education, I did not want to be average, I wanted to travel, and I wanted to do something bigger than myself and do something that had a purpose and help a cause. Joining the U.S. Air Force has provided me the opportunity to do all those things.

Marisa: What are other reasons Latinas/women join the military? Do other female and Latinas counterparts join the military for the same reasons?

Paulette: “For women, joining the military is another way to proudly carry their family name and represent their families. It is a way to help their families financially, continue their education and for others is a way to gain their citizenship and give back to this country that has afforded them freedom and peace. Joining the military is also a good stepping stone for any other career in the future and a place to find your voice and gain confidence.”

I am not only immensely proud of my niece Senior Airman, Staff Select, Paulette Rivera, but of all the Latinas and women serving in the military, that are making their voices be heard, their talents and strengths being used, and their leadership utilized. As women establish their own military tradition, daughters now are following in their mother’s footsteps and sisters serve together. Just as the public and private sectors, the military needs to pay attention to the fastest-growing recruits that “Las Jefas” represent.

Marisa Rivera is president of Mpowerment Works, a motivational speaker, executive coach and leadership and empowerment consultant. Marisa@ MpowermentWorks. com.