By Michelle Cazares, Capt., USAF
Director of Operations
425th Air Base Squadron
Izmir Air Station, Turkey
Iclearly remember walking home with my
cousin and a friend from high school one
day and seeing a group of guys in a car
staring at us. My cousin and his friend, both
males, looked straight ahead to avoid any
problems. I knew I was wearing the wrong
gang colors for that area but decided to stare
back anyway. Seconds later, we heard gun
shots coming from the car. We all continued
to walk normal—as you never knew if they
did it just to scare us and running would
just make things worse. Growing up in one of
the most gang populated and dangerous
neighborhoods in Chicago, I had many
incidents like this one. I was fortunate to make
it through, but not everyone did.
When I was 12 years old, my father
started taking me to work with him in the
summer. He left his family in Mexico to move to the
United States at the young age of 16. He started off
as a dishwasher not knowing any English, and with
hard work and dedication, he learned English and
Greek. He eventually opened a restaurant in the
south side of Chicago. Working in the
restaurant with him showed me just how hard he
worked to provide for the family. This was extremely
impactful for me and it really shaped the person I am
My father taught me many lessons during
the long work days I spent with him. He stressed
that I shouldn’t wait for someone to tell me to do
something, and to just do it if it needs to be done. He
Capt. Michelle at her first duty in Dyess
AFB, TX, 2001.
would tell me that no task was too small, and that I
should always give it my all. My father was big
on culture and wanted us to embrace our Mexican
heritage and to be proud of being Mexican American.
Seeing how hard he worked and how far he made it,
motivated me to work hard myself to make him and
my mother proud.
As high school graduation got closer, I thought
about how I really wanted to go to college, but I
didn’t want my parents to have to pay for it. I knew
nothing about the military, but decided to enlist in the
Air Force straight out of high school at the age of 17.
My plan was to do four years in order to have college
paid for. Four years went by and when it was time to
get out, I realized I loved being in the military.
Kindergarten class in Mexico, 1988.
Capt. Michelle being promoted to Master
Sargent, July 2011.
Throughout my career, I would always hear my
father’s voice in my head telling me to work harder
and to take initiative. That voice pushed me to work
and study hard, which got me promoted to Master
Sergeant (E-7) before my 11-year mark. It got
me selected into positions that I wasn’t sure I
was ready for, but I gave it my all and was able to
be successful. Those words pushed me to get
my bachelor’s and master’s degree regardless of
deployments and long workdays. Those simple
words in my head pushed me into crossing over to
the officer side and becoming a Cyberspace Officer.
Now as a Captain, I’m constantly striving to be
a positive role model to other Latinas. I want them
to see that it doesn’t matter where you come
from. You don’t have to come from the nicest
neighborhood or the best school. If you have the drive
and perseverance to work hard and push through
barriers, anything is possible. LS
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Latina Letters From the Front
Deployment to Colombia, 2008.
32 www.latinastyle.com LATINAStyle Vol. 25, No. 3, 2019