Latina Letters From the Front!

By Lt. Col. Maritzel G. Castrellon Chief, Personnel Services Branch CENTCOM CCJ1, MacDill AFB, FL

(L-R) Maritzel’s father Victor La Placa, brother Daniel La Placa, Maritzel Castrellon and two of her dad’s students in Lackland AFB, 1994.

My military heritage started way before I was born. This intricate story began in the early 1900s when my paternal grandfather, the son of two Italian immigrants, moved from Hell’s Kitchen, New York to the once known, Panama Canal Zone in the country of Panama. He was enlisted in the Army, separated from the Army while he was in Panama and then married my grandmother, the daughter of Spanish immigrants. My father was born in an Army hospital, went to an American high school and then enlisted in the Air Force. Two years later, he married my mother, the daughter of two Panamanians and consequently, my brother and I were born.

We were raised in Panama and experienced the typical life of a military “BRAT” (describes the child of someone serving full-time in the United States Armed Forces). I was born in the same hospital as my father in 1981 and graduated from the same high school in 1999. We lived in the American bubble of the Panama Canal Zone, one we now call, “the lost paradise” due to the Americans leaving and giving the canal back to the Panamanians in 1999.

Maritzel’s commissioning ceremony in 2003. Mother Marisol Chanis, brother Jaime Sentmat, and Maritzel at the Capitol Hill in San Juan Puerto Rico.

My interest in the military started at an early age. I would see my father putting on his uniform on a daily basis as he was getting ready to go to work. He would often take my brother and I to his work and we would see the airplanes among other awesome military artifacts.

When I started high school, I enrolled in the Army Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) where I did four years upon graduation. My mother, brothers and I left Panama and moved to Puerto Rico in 1999 where I started college and once again, enrolled in the ROTC program but this time it was the Air Force. I completed my four years of college and commissioned as a second lieutenant in the United States Air Force in 2003.

(L-R) Maritzel’s father Victor La Placa, Maritzel, Col (Ret) Dawn Sweet, mother Marisol Chanis at Captain Promotion Ceremony in Bolling AFB, DC 2007.

I cannot complain about my 16 ½ years in the military; it has taken me to places like Texas, Washington D.C., Colombia, Italy, Colorado, Arizona and now Florida. When I was in D.C. the next chapter of my life started, I became a wife. I met my husband, Alejandro (also from Panama) in 2007 and we have been married for almost 11 years. Right when I thought balancing being a wife and also a military member was difficult, I threw in the mother role in 2016. We had our first daughter Daniela and then had our second, Nicole in 2018. I was a commander during both pregnancies and nursed both of my babies during command for over 14 months each. Wow, talk about trying to balance life. I wanted to be the best in all three roles and I often questioned and still question if I am falling short in one of them.

Maritzel Castrellon with her husband Alejandro Castrellon, oldest daughter Daniela Castrellon, youngest daughter Nicole Castrellon in El Valle, Ancon, Panama, 2018.

The military is my life but like I have told and still tell my service members – family first. When I got married and then had kids, I prioritized my life and always put my family in front of everything.

The military has taught me so much, but when I look back, I often think about the reason behind what most would call a successful career thus far. I attribute so many of my accomplishments to my mother. She is the one who taught me discipline, responsibility, humbleness, respect and love among other traits.

When I was six years old, my parents divorced and my mother raised us. My relationship with my dad continued but my mother shouldered most of the responsibilities herself. With only a high school degree on her resume, my hardworking mom worked her way up from a low-ranking federal government employee to a top tier specialist in her field. She sets the standard for me in motherhood, at work and in life and I will always continue to work hard to meet that standard.


My life is full of everything I ever asked for and I’m still hungry for more. I don’t know when I’ll put the boots in the closet and hang my uniform but one thing I do know is that I will always be proud and grateful for everything this country and the military have given me.