SAN DIEGO (NNS) -- Nineteen Latina chief petty officers (CPO) and five Latina CPO selects stationed in San Diego prepared for the upcoming National Hispanic Heritage Month with the first Latina Chief Petty Officer Photo-Ex, Aug. 29.
The event gave the Sailors the opportunity to meet peers and be photographed as a group.
Command Master Chief (SW/AW) Patricia Garcia, stationed aboard guided-missile cruiser USS Chancellorsville (CG 62), organized the event after noticing that younger Latina chief petty officers often lacked opportunities to find mentors with similar backgrounds.
"When I was coming up in the Navy," she said, "we didn't have female Hispanic senior enlisted leadership."
Garcia, born in Los Angeles and raised in Bloomington, Calif., joined the Navy in 1990 to create better opportunities for her family. Since then, she said she has seen the Latina community grow and excel, and wanted to do something to bring those women together.
Garcia decided to hold the Photo-Ex in San Diego's Chicano Park, which is surrounded by murals honoring Hispanic and Latino culture, and chose the date in anticipation of National Hispanic Heritage Month, celebrated annually from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15. The theme of this year's Hispanic Heritage Month is, "Serving and leading our nation with pride and honor."
"The heritage of this park was perfect for what we wanted to accomplish," Garcia said.
Chief (select) Ship's Serviceman (SW) Jennifer Elenes snapped several photos in front of the murals with her cell phone before posing for the group shot. As a chief select, she said the event represented not only her cultural heritage but the tradition of another proud community she is soon to join, that of the Navy CPO. She noted that Latina chiefs are also part of a larger group that includes Sailors from countless different backgrounds.
"This event is just celebrating Hispanic chiefs," Elenes said. "However, all of us together form one big community: the Chiefs Mess."
To emphasize that point, several male CPOs were also on hand to support the event. Command Master Chief (SW) Pete Santos was one such attendee and said he was proud to be given the opportunity to embrace diversity in the Navy, both in terms of ethnicity and gender.
"It's the start of something that will continue," he said. "We support our chief petty officer sisters."
Chief Information Systems Technician (IDW/SW/AW/IUSS) Ilyana Williams was the youngest chief petty officer in attendance, and seemingly representative of Garcia's goal of reaching out to Sailors with less experience than she. Williams said the message from the event was one she hopes Latinas in the Navy take to heart.
"You can always overcome every obstacle," she said. "It's being seen today, with these pictures."
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