A Continued Promise
As a six year-old girl plays with wooden toys in a family dentist office in Colombia, she makes a decision. Some children dream of being an astronaut, a musician or president, but rarely do they commit to a promise made at six years old.
"I was in my first year of specialty school studying to become a lawyer like my father," said Roldan-Whitaker. "Some of my professors were at the Palace of Justice in Bogota the day Eme Dicenueve (M19) stormed the building and took them hostage. When we heard the building had exploded and crumbled, I thought the world around me was burning."
After a couple of years and the passing of her father, her mother received a visa for her and her two younger brothers but left her older brother behind. An accepted visa applicant can only bring dependents under the age of 21, which meant her older brother would have to wait for his mother to gain citizenship to sponsor him.
"My mother's decision to leave Colombia was extremely hard because most of my father's family disapproved of it," explains Roldan-Whitaker. "They didn't believe my mother could provide a living for a family of three because she didn't speak English or have a high school education."
In contrast, her mother was determined and believed in the possibility of a better life for her family in the United States. While Roldan-Whitaker's younger siblings went to school, she began her new life in the U.S. by flipping burgers and saving money for her family to survive.
While watching a commercial for the U.S. Army, Roldan-Whitaker decided to trade her spatulas and greasy uniform for a future in the armed services. Although the commercial may have been for the Army, her preference for the U.S. Navy uniforms in the recruiter's window convinced her to become a Sailor.
"When I first met the recruiter, I didn't speak enough English to pass the pre-test to join the Navy," said Roldan-Whitaker. "He told me to learn English and study for something called an ASVAB while I waited in the Delayed Entry Program."
A year later, in 1990, with a contract signed for Electrician's Mate, she packed her belongings for Orlando, Florida.
"After boot camp, they transferred me to my first ship, the destroyer tender USS Yosemite AD19 out of Mayport, Florida, and luckily that ship was decommissioning because at the time I was terrified of ships," said Roldan-Whitaker. "I asked this Panamanian Sailor on our ship who always had large books with him what he was doing?"
It turned out he was studying to retake his ASVAB to submit a package for the Enlisted Commissioning Program. Inspired by his example and searching for something more meaningful, she put together a package as well. However, after two years of waiting for news of acceptance, her initial contract was coming to an end.
"I had given everything I loved for this chance in the Navy, and it broke my heart leaving," said Roldan-Whitaker. "Because I didn't get selected, I got out and decided to return to school. I never thought I would have an opportunity to come back to the Navy."