By Momar G. Visaya
WASHINGTON, DC – Filipinas continue to blaze the trail even in the military, a field traditionally dominated by men.
At the 5th Annual Filipina Summit held at the nation’s capital last week, seven high-ranking Filipina military officers took center stage and shared their stories on how they broke the proverbial glass ceiling in their chosen field.
Capt. Paz Gomez, Deputy Director of Installations Requirements and Management under the Office of the Deputy Undersecretary of Defense (Installations and Environment) led the panel. She is the first woman of color, and the fifth woman overall, to be promoted as captain in the navy.
“We are here to defend our country, but we cannot deny the fact that we are Filipinos, to. Even though we will gladly say we’re Americans, we will also gladly say that we are proud of our Filipino heritage,” Capt. Gomez said.
Capt. Gomez, who was born in Waukegan, Illinois, grew up in a military family.
Her father was recruited into the navy from his hometown in Mendez, Cavite. “He wanted to give his family a better opportunity so he signed up, first as a cook, then a steward. He studied electrical engineering and became an electrician,” Gomez shared.
Growing up in a “typical Filipino family” with seven other siblings, Gomez said that she loved the military lifestyle and that she didn’t mind moving every couple of years.
Her father, once he found out that the navy has opened its doors to women, began bringing navy catalogues home, which he would let the children browse.
Major Rosadel Dominguez Hoffman’s father was also recruited from Cavite when he was barely in his teens. Her decision to join the military years later emanated from the military influence she saw growing up.
“It has been great. I met my husband in the military and I am proud that both of us serve the country,” Maj. Hoffman said.
Col. Rebecca Samson, chief, Troop Support Division, Army G-4 on the other hand, was born in Angeles City and grew up just outside Clark Air Force Base.
“When I was a kid I had a dream. I wanted to join the military and be an officer. I liked the discipline,” Col. Samson shared.
Col. Samson said that she was raised by very strong women, among them her Visayan grandmother and her own mother. “My father was in charge but my mother was the one in control,” she quipped.
As an officer, Samson believes that her devotion to the military and the hard work she provided were crucial to her ascent in the army.
“Once I earned the respect of my superiors and mentors, the minority thing, the woman thing, they were out of the door,” she shared.
Lt. Col. Shirley Raguindin, State Diversity Coordinator & Supervisory HR Specialist (Labor Relations) of the Arizona National Guard began active duty service in the US Air Force where she was commissioned a Second Lieutenant following her graduation.
Under her leadership the Arizona National Guard achieved a 300% increase in Department of Defense and National Guard Bureau nationwide recognition for diversity initiatives in 2007.
“I grew up wanting to serve. I wanted to do more than just what a regular job could offer,” she shared.
Raguindin had a lot of barriers to go through in order to be where she is at right now, beginning with her father who told her that the military is not for women. “That did not deter me from running after what I wanted,” she said.
LCDR (Lieutenant Commander) Christina de Leon, program analyst of the U.S. Coast Guard, was born in Dagupan City, but was raised in various parts of the U.S. as a Coast Guard dependent.
Her family moved from Pangasinan to the U.S. when she was barely three months old when her father was recruited into the coast guard.
“Call it family influence. My father brought home brochures of the coast guard, salary tables and application to the U.S. Coast Guard Academy,” LCDR de Leon recalled.
She applied and eventually got in. In 1994, she graduated with honors with a Bachelor of Science degree in Management.
“I never looked back since then. I am my father’s only girl, the only one among his children who joined the service,” she added.
Davidson honed her craft and took further studies, eventually earning a Master’s in Public Administration degree from Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. She is currently assigned as a program analyst at the U.S. Coast Guard Headquarters in Washington, DC.
Major Juliet Beyler recalled that she struggled and did not have good grades when she was in school.
“I was a wayward youth,” admitted Maj. Beyler, who is now the Legislative Affairs Director of the U.S. Marine Corps.
She realized that in order to straighten things out, she enlisted in the military, a decision that distraught her parents. “They almost had a heart attack,” she quipped.
Beyler said she found a home as she grew up in the military. “It was happenstance, but it was the best decision that I made in my life,” she said.
Lt. Lineka Quijano, judge advocate at the U.S. Coast Guard was born and raised in Florida. Her foray into a career in the military happened by accident.
“I was interviewing for a tax job in DC when I stumbled into a Coast Guard recruitment and back then, I had no clue what the Coast Guard did,” she said. Lt. Quijano currently serves as a criminal defense attorney and represents military members at both administrative proceedings and courts martial. (AJ)