ARABIAN GULF (NNS) -- "Life is not easy - especially in our military environment and lifestyle, but anything is possible," said Chief Logistics Specialist (SW/AW) Yuly Mejia. "You have to be a strong-willed person to do what we do."
At the age of 12, and with nothing more than a backpack on her back, hope and dreams, Mejia immigrated to the United States from Callao, Peru, with her three younger brothers and her parents.
"We led a decent life in Peru, but there was an opportunity for a brighter future in the U.S." said Mejia. "I am very thankful to my uncle for having given us that chance. He had already immigrated to the U.S., and he helped my parents submit a petition. About seven months later, we had the opportunity to immigrate."
As a token of appreciation for the opportunities afforded to her, Mejia decided to give back to the country that gave so much to her by serving in its maritime force, the U.S. Navy. Shortly thereafter, her brothers decided to follow in their sister's footsteps by joining the U.S. Army.
With 17 years of naval service under her belt, she has ascended the ranks and serves with Amphibious Squadron Three.
"I love being an LS!" exclaimed Mejia. "I'm not here just to collect a paycheck. I try to perform to the best of my abilities.
"My husband, Irwin, always jokes and says, 'T no respiras tu trabajo. T comes tu trabajo!' You don't breathe your job. You eat it!" she said laughing.
"My naval career has been a blessing," she said with tears beginning to form in her eyes. "I have had the chance to represent the Navy and our country in foreign lands."
"I vividly remember an elderly woman who I encountered frequently while I was stationed in Italy," she continued. "She was closed-minded about the U.S. presence there, but through my being respectful, greeting her in Italian and simply smiling, I could see that her attitude toward us had changed. She realized that we were there to do our job: to support not only our country, but also our allies and to keep the world safe from threats. That's when I fully understood the role I played as an ambassador of our nation. A role I fulfill proudly every day."
Along with the typical challenges of life on active duty, Mejia handled the additional challenges of being a mother of three children.
"My mother calls me a 'guerrera' - a warrior: I will do anything to ensure that my kids have everything they need. I was fortunate enough to have a great support system and dependable people to help me while I was deployed."
Of her three children, the eldest, Tameka Palma, and the youngest, Brennan Granison, followed their mother into the armed services by also enlisting in the Navy.
"I wasn't surprised when they decided to join the Navy," said Mejia. "They both completed three years of JROTC in high school, and they had been around uniformed people all their lives."
"Plus, like their mother, they like to give back," she added proudly.
"I've been around the Navy my entire life," said Granison, an Aviation Boatswain's Mate (Fuels) Airman. "My family and my love for travel played major roles in my decision to enlist."
Despite the many challenges the family faced, they focused on the positive aspects of the mobile, active-duty lifestyle.
"In the beginning, it was definitely difficult to adjust," said Palma, an Engineman 2nd Class, as she reminisced on her childhood. "But after doing it all the time, it became second nature. Now it's easier for me to overcome and adapt to any challenge I face."
"I've had the opportunity to visit so many exotic places," Palma continued nostalgically. "I have gained a wealth of experience because of that, and I'm thankful for all the opportunities we've had through our mother's service."
As with any proud parent, Mejia would stop at nothing to be there for her children, and she has done this in exciting, spontaneous ways.
One such way was when she surprised her daughter by attending her graduation from the Recruit Training Command (RTC) in Great Lakes, Ill.
"I didn't know she was going to attend because I didn't hear anything from anyone," said Palma. "I thought, 'Oh, this is unfortunate. I'm going to be by myself during my graduation from RTC.' But that same day, she was sitting in the audience, and I couldn't believe it because she was stationed in South Korea at that time. It really means a lot to me that she's so supportive."
She also attended her son's graduation from RTC when she was stationed in Lisbon, Portugal.
"She showed up to my graduation and sat in the front row in her dress blues!" exclaimed Granison while laughing. "I couldn't help but laugh because she always finds a way to surprise us."
Palma and Granison are both currently serving aboard the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) in the Arabian Gulf-Palma as ship's company and Granison in a temporary assigned duty (TAD) capacity from the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68)-a rare occurrence for family members to be assigned to the same command.
Mejia, who is embarked in the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2), the flag ship of the Essex Amphibious Ready Group, is also deployed to the Arabian Gulf.
On Sept. 20, the Commander of the Essex Amphibious Ready Group (ARG), Capt. Clinton A. Carroll, granted Mejia yet another opportunity to surprise her children by flying to Theodore Roosevelt and allowing them to spend the day together.
Mejia recognizes that none of this would have been possible without a supportive chain of command.
"I am very thankful," she said of her recent trip to Theodore Roosevelt from Essex, her voice swelling with emotions. "The Commodore [Carroll] made the request. It was his idea, and he made it happen. This opportunity spoke to the quality of leadership in the Navy and the compassion Capt. Carroll has for his Sailors."
"You don't often see Sailors flying to other ships for things like this," she continued, her voice quivering. "So, I was grateful - very, very grateful."
"LSC (SW/AW) Mejia and her family represent all that is truly great about our Nation and Navy: opportunity, selfless service and heritage," said Carroll. "My dad served for 36 years as a master chief boatswain's mate; so, the legacy of family service strikes close to home for me. I am humbled to serve with Chief Mejia."
Essex is the flagship of the Essex ARG and, with the embarked 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), is deployed in support of maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations.
For more news from Commander, Amphibious Squadron 3, visit www.navy.mil/local/cpr3/.