On November 11, we will celebrate and honor the bravery and service of U.S. veterans. As Latino population in the United States grows, so does the number of Latinos joining the armed forces. Since 1995, the number of Latinas in the military has increased nearly 10 times over the past two decades — from 4.9 percent of all enlisted women in the military to 48 percent! However, Latinos still only account for 11.3 percent of active-duty military personnel.
For many Latinas, joining the military provides many benefits, both professionally and personally. For U.S. Army veterans Jazmin M. Flores and Nora Soto, serving in the military has provided invaluable knowledge and experience. See how serving in the military has changed these Latinas' lives:
What is your current job title?
Flores: Special Assistant to the Assistant Secretary of the Office of Policy (U.S. Department of Homeland Security).
Soto: I was an adjunct general in the U.S. Army. I'm currently enrolled in an alternative certification program to become a teacher.
Why did you decide to join the military?
Flores: I was in my sophomore year of college and — like most college students — I was struggling to figure out what I wanted to do. I always knew that pursuing a career in the military was absolutely in my plan. I was involved in the ROTC program in college and decided to enlist in order to see firsthand what the military was truly like.
Soto: To make my parents proud. I wanted my father to see me in uniform. I am a second generation American. Even though my parents are American, they were raised in Mexico. My parents decided to come back to the United States so that my siblings could have an education. My parents experienced a lot of prejudice because they did not speak English. We grew up in poverty and a gang-infested area. We lost our brothers to that environment, which made me realize I needed to be successful and educated — so that [my] parents' decision was not in vain. I felt it was my duty to serve in their place.
What job/career opportunities did joining the military open for you?
Flores: The training, education, and leadership opportunities the military has provided me with has instilled discipline, leadership traits, communication skills, and an understanding for other cultures. This has greatly benefited me by allowing me to be calm in environments where some may panic, make decisions in a timely manner, communicate concisely, and work well with others.
Soto: The army set a strong foundation for me. It gave me a positive perspective in my career as a strong female by expanding my experiences and ensuring I had the endurance to finish what I started. It gave me an opportunity to lead and take charge of my decisions, to never doubt myself, and to continue moving forward.
How does your military background help you in your current job?
Flores: I'm currently the special assistant for the assistant secretary for policy at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. I review briefing materials that pertain to current events and policy, as well as any day-to-day staffing needs. In the military, I currently serve as a senior watch analyst, where I work closely on current operations in a fast-paced environment for the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Both my civilian and my military position require timely decision-making, communication skills, and leadership. I work in the intelligence community, where both my military and civilian positions require being a subject matter expert in that field.
Soto: My military background helps me by continuing and ensuring I maintain my work ethics and values. I live by my Army values, and I apply them to everything I do. I'm loyal and to me that means I'm an honest person. Respect and integrity, I always do what is right, even when no one is looking, my word has value to me. I could never see someone be wronged, I'll always be that justified person who speaks up for others.
What are the biggest struggles you face as a woman in the military and how have you overcome them?
Flores: The biggest challenge is the perception that women can't handle a specific task or unit assignment. This is entirely inaccurate. For example, recently the first two female soldiers Shaye Haver and Kristen Griest graduated this past August from the rigorous army ranger course, earning the coveted ranger tab. This is evident that women can accomplish anything that their male peers can accomplish if given the opportunity. The best way of overcoming this challenge is simply by working hard, focusing on the mission, and ensuring that the mission gets accomplished. This can be applied to any job in and out of the military.
Soto: There are many obstacles for the female soldier at any rank. You’re judged on your appearance, mannerism, and on your femininity. The Army is a male-dominated profession. It was intimidating for me, at first, coming from a traditional Mexican family. However, I earned respect by my knowledge of the regulations and assessing the situations and providing correct answers and solutions. I developed a no-nonsense approach to situations. I would not let any males talk over me. I developed a persona — don't smile, be direct, and raise my voice if needed. During field problems, I became one of the guys. I carried as much as they did and always pushed a little further.
What does serving your country mean to you personally?
Flores: Serving my country means being able to wear the American flag on my right shoulder knowing that I've taken on a duty that less than 1 percent of our country has taken on with me; it's very patriotic. I know I've made my family proud by showing the strength and courage to face our countries greatest threats when called upon.
Soto: I am very proud to have served in the world's greatest army. It was a privilege and an honor to stand in the ranks of many great selfless, courageous, and dedicated men and women.
Any advice for young Latinas who are interested in a military career?
Flores: Do it. If you can conceive it, then it might be a calling. Naturally we tend to follow those who we share commonalities with. In my honest opinion, we can use more Latina leadership in the military, which would allow future Latinas to have a comfort in following someone that they can connect with — it's a gap that needs to be filled.
Soto: Never stop setting goals for yourself, as you complete one, set another one up. Remember: Be at the right place, at the right time, and in the right uniform.
Not only would I like to thank Jazmin and Nora for letting me interview them, but I would also like to thank them, along with all Latina veterans, for their bravery and service to our country. It is always empowering and an honor to meet such strong and intelligent Latinas!
Sasha Monik Moreno is a Founding Creator and career and education blogger. When she's not sharing her advice on Vivala.com, you can find her at themodernlatina.com.