Guard Helicopter Pilot: ‘The Sky Is Actually Not the Limit’

MCALLEN, Texas — In a small barbed-wire enclosed yard in Tamaulipas, Mexico, three hours south of the Texas-Mexico border, 6-year-old Liliana Chavez Uribe marveled at the sight of crop dusters flying over her home and dreamed that one day she, too, could fly.

A short 18 years later, Second Lieutenant (2LT) Liliana Chavez Uribe smiles as she recalls the memory that propelled her forward and ever upward.

“I grew up in a rural area where we didn’t have running water – we had wells,” 2LT Chavez, 24, says. “We had outhouses, so, no toilets, and the first time I saw a shower I was in second or third grade – I grew up in the projects.”

2LT Chavez, now an Aeromedical Evacuation Officer, 2nd Battalion, 149th Aviation Regiment, General Support Aviation Battalion, who flies Black Hawk and Lakota helicopters for the Texas Army National Guard, says her accomplishments are far beyond what her 6-year-old self could have imagined.

“I have been wanting to fly since the first time I saw an airplane, but I kind of put that dream aside, since I thought it was very competitive. It was like dreaming to be a movie star ­– you put it aside because you think it will never happen.”

Despite the obstacles she and her family endured as immigrants during their journey, 2LT Chavez realized her dreams were more of a reality than she thought.

“I came here as a permanent resident,” she says. “My dad worked his butt off to get us all here the correct, legal way, and now I am a citizen.”

It was during her high school years in Pharr, Texas, that 2LT Chavez discovered her love for the disciplined military structure when she joined the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps.

She graduated fifth in her high school class with an associate degree under her belt and landed a two-year Texas Armed Services scholarship to the University of Texas Pan-American, where she joined the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) and studied biology.

“In ROTC I got the opportunity to go up for the aviation board,” 2LT Chavez says. “I put in the packet, took a physical fitness test, went before a whole bunch of important people and was selected.”

She graduated flight school and Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape (SERE) training. SERE is a requirement for all pilots and U.S. Special Forces that tests participants’ mental and physical fortitude to prepare them to evade capture and survive extreme conditions and unforgiving elements.

Fighting ‘Lowest Moment’ with Laughter 

2LT Chavez says that SERE training was the most challenging experience she has faced in her life.

“My lowest moment (during the training), I can’t say it, but it was really, really low,” she says. “But I started laughing, even though there were tears coming out of my eyes. It was tough, but I always had a positive attitude. I tried to sing and make something positive out of a crappy situation.”

2LT Chavez credits her father’s work ethic as the reason she is so driven to overcome the multitude of challenges she faced during SERE training.

“My dad, he is really motivating. He works in construction, in roofing. He would come back home just burned and blistered – every day, non-stop, and he never complained.”

‘I Embrace Every Stereotype’ 

2LT Chavez remembers being one of three women, and the only Hispanic woman, in her flight school class.

“There is a challenge in being a Hispanic woman and being a minority – that’s two things,” she says. “But now, I think it’s a great thing, because we can actually go all the way to the top.”

The pilot says that she overcomes discrimination the same way that she conquered her challenges during SERE training – with a splash of humor.

“I just play along with it, and I say ‘so what? I don’t care, I’ll make you tacos right now,’” 2LT Chavez says. “I’ll prove a point, I’m Mexican, I’ll braid my hair. I embrace every stereotype, and I think that’s the way to do it instead of being thin-skinned.”

Regardless of all the obstacles she has faced, whether it was getting through college, financial setbacks, discrimination, or SERE, 2LT Chavez never saw failure as an option.

2LT Liliana Chavez Uribe

2LT Liliana Chavez Uribe, Texas Army National Guard

“My main drive was not to disappoint my father. I wanted to finish school and do amazing things for myself and him, also. I want to eventually pay him back for all he has done for us.”

2LT Chavez, a lean five-and-a-half-feet tall, walks ruler-straight and with purpose, radiating positivity while also having a steadfast command presence.

“The leader I hope to be – I expect to touch many, many lives,” she says. “I am already a joyful leader, always looking at the positive side. I am always smiling. I don’t want to be bitter. If you aren’t happy and have a moody face that is contagious.”

 ‘I Want to Fly it All’

When 2LT Chavez talks about her job and flying, her face lights up, and her voice exudes an energetic tone which proves that long after achieving her dream of flying, she is still filled with the same wonder and awe she had watching the crop dusters as a young girl.

“I want to fly a fixed wing. I want to fly it all (all aircraft),” she said.

The pilot reflected upon where she would be in life had her father not moved their family to the United States.

“I would be living a sad life, probably with like, five kids, not in school, not educated or maybe something even worse – just the way stuff is down there.”

Her father, Silvano Chavez, disagrees.

“If we hadn’t come here, nothing would be different,” Chavez said. “Liliana serves as an example that if you work hard and persevere you can get to where you want to be, and if Lily were in Mexico, she would move somewhere else and still succeed because that is the way she is.”

Many Dreams Left to Fulfill

Although she has reached what her family and many people would see as the pinnacle of success, 2LT Chavez says she still has many dreams to fulfill.

“My other plan is to go back to school for earth and coastal sciences, diving and studying earth forms. I want to be an astronaut, too, one day.”

Chavez has a message for other girls who have big “movie star dreams” like hers.

“I’d tell them don’t limit yourself, the sky is actually not the limit – you can be an astronaut if you want to.”

So, if you’re ready to test your limits, the Army National Guard offers plenty of options, right in your own community, where you’ll maintain your military training on a part-time basis. This flexibility gives you time to pursue a civilian career, too, which can be accomplished a lot easier when you take advantage of the Guard’s education benefits

Check out our job board, which can be searched by location or the type of career you’re interested in, from aviation to armor and field artillery, to military police, logistics support, and more. For personalized advice, contact your local recruiter.

From an original story by 1LT Nadine Wiley De Moura, 100th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, which appeared in the news section of NationalGuard.mil, in May 2018.

Share on FacebookShare on Twitter

State Spotlight: Washington

Combat Medic Skills Help Soldier Save Lives in His Civilian Job

CAMP MURRAY, Wash. – When Deputy Sergio Sanchez arrived at the scene of a drive-by shooting during a night patrol shift with the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department in Spanaway, Wash., he found a man bleeding from his leg.

Sanchez, 28, a six-year veteran in law enforcement, exited his squad car with his personal first aid kit and instantly went to work.

The victim had a bullet wound that went straight through his leg and was bleeding profusely. Within minutes, Sanchez stabilized the man’s injuries with gauze and a tourniquet for transport to the local hospital.

Sanchez didn’t learn his life-saving skills on the police force. He also serves as a combat medic (68W Health Care Specialist) with the Washington Army National Guard‘s Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 2nd Battalion, 146th Field Artillery Regiment.

“I knew exactly what injury he had and immediately I knew what to do,” he said, referring to the gunshot victim. “It was essentially what I learned in [combat medic] school [at Fort Sam Houston] in San Antonio.”

Having formal military training as a combat medic has given Specialist (SPC) Sanchez an extra skill set that often sets him apart from his peers in the police department.

“We don’t usually see that kind of qualification and experience with a brand new deputy,” said sheriff’s department Sgt. Glen Carpenter, Deputy Sanchez’s shift supervisor, adding that most deputies do not have formal training as a medic or a first responder.

Pierce County Sheriff’s Deputy Sergio Sanchez also serves as a Specialist and a combat medic in the Washington Army National Guard.

Pierce County Sheriff’s Deputy Sergio Sanchez also serves as a Specialist and a combat medic in the Washington Army National Guard.

The drive-by shooting was not the only time SPC Sanchez has used his Army medic skills in his capacity as sheriff’s deputy. Several weeks after that incident, he was called to the scene of a hit-and-run where he found a man lying in the middle of the road.

“When we got closer we saw a large amount of blood coming from his head,” he said. “He was not responsive and barely breathing.”

SPC Sanchez said his training kicked in, and he stabilized the victim’s neck and spinal cord. He applied gauze and pressure to the head injury, and soon the injured man began to show signs of life.

“He eventually started moaning, so that was a good sign,” he said. “I just kept him stabilized until [the] fire [department] got there.”

SPC Sanchez was hit with the medic bug when he was a young boy and came across an old first aid bag from his father’s time in the Army.

“[I] was immediately drawn to what was inside, and spent hours studying the many different pieces of medical equipment,” he said.

However, even with his training, SPC Sanchez said he doesn’t think he, alone, saved these two people’s lives. As a combat medic he is trained to treat, stabilize and move patients on to higher care.

“I just treat and stabilize until fire personnel get there. They start doing [higher level] medical intervention.”

Being a combat medic allows SPC Sanchez to be a much more valuable commodity to the profession he loves so much.

“Being a deputy … I love it,” he said. “Not every day is the same. Being a medic adds a way for me to be helpful and effective to the citizens and my partners.”

So if you’re looking for a way to help your fellow citizens, consider joining the Army National Guard, which has a dual mission to serve the community and the Nation.

Service in this branch of the military is a part-time commitment, and this flexibility allows Soldiers to pursue civilian careers. You’ll receive training for a Guard career, too. Check out our job board to explore more than 150 options, in fields like engineering, aviation, military police, medicine, and armor and field artillery. And for personalized advice, contact your local recruiter, who can also walk you through the Guard’s benefits like money for college.

From an original story by Tech. Sgt. Erich B. Smith, National Guard Bureau, which originally appeared in the news section of NationalGuard.mil in May 2017.

Share on FacebookShare on Twitter

Women Soldiers Get More from the Guard

Lieutenant Colonel Says Opportunities and Benefits for Women Growing Steadily

In honor of Women’s History Month, On Your Guard takes a look at 21st century changes that are providing more opportunities for female Soldiers through the perspective of a West Point graduate who is now a leader in the Florida Army National Guard.

Fresh out of West Point in 2000, Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) Elizabeth Evans chose Fort Hood, Texas, as her first duty station. As the largest Army installation in the country, she expected to find the widest range of opportunities for a female civil engineer like herself.

But out of 10 engineering battalions there, 9 were combat mechanized engineering battalions, restricted to men only, with women allowed to serve only in support roles within each headquarters company. The other was a construction battalion that was open to both men and women serving as an engineer platoon leader, but it had a waiting list more than two years long.

LTC Evans decided to request assignment to the 1st Cavalry Division’s 20th Engineer Battalion, knowing she would be able to serve only in a support role. It was here that she served as a support platoon leader within a support company, handling logistics for her male engineer peers and friends from West Point, but her heart was in commanding a combat or construction unit.

She was later told that 80 percent of the Army’s construction formations, which were 100% open to women, were in the Army’s reserve components – the Army Reserves or Army National Guard, causing her to question if the opportunity for a female engineer officer to lead engineer Soldiers would ever truly exist for her or others on Active Duty.

So, in 2005, frustrated by the lack of options available, LTC Evans left the Army for the Florida Army National Guard, which has a dual mission of serving the Nation and responding to local emergencies, like extreme weather events.

“When I looked at the mission of the National Guard and the fact that they responded to states of emergency that the governor requests help on, I thought, ‘This is awesome. If a hurricane hits, we come in with our engineer equipment, and we get to help our citizens and neighbors restore the community that I will be a part of.’”

Because Guard service is part-time for the majority of its members, she also had the opportunity to pursue her engineering career in the private sector as a superintendent and project manager in residential and commercial construction. She is a certified General Contractor and serves as the Southeast U.S. Director of Construction for Source Refrigeration and HVAC, Inc.

Within 6 months of moving to Florida, she was asked to command a Horizontal Construction Company in Live Oak, Fla., finally having the opportunity to command engineers as an engineer officer. She is now Commander of the 53rd Brigade Special Troops Battalion outside of Tampa, a battalion that is comprised of a combat engineer company, signal company, military intelligence company, and a headquarters company.

“I had multiple opportunities for command which never would have happened had I stayed in the active Army,” she says.

Out of seven battalions in their Infantry Brigade within the Florida Army National Guard, two are led by women: LTC Elizabeth Evans, 53rd Brigade Special Troops Battalion Commander, left, and LTC Cindy Harkrider, 53rd Brigade Support Battalion Commander.

Out of seven battalions in their Infantry Brigade within the Florida Army National Guard, two are led by women: LTC Elizabeth Evans, 53rd Brigade Special Troops Battalion Commander, left, and LTC Cindy Harkrider, 53rd Brigade Support Battalion Commander.

Still, LTC Evans has seen a lot of progress as far as the Army allowing equal opportunity for men and women, and in attitudes of acceptance of female Soldiers as equals in her 17 years of military service, pointing to these signs of progress: women were accepted and have graduated from Sapper School, the combat engineers’ defining school for their field. Women have been accepted to and graduated from Army Ranger School, which is the Army’s premier tactical leadership course; female Soldiers were successfully attached to Special Forces in Cultural Support Teams in Afghanistan; and in 2016, the Department of Defense opened all military direct combat jobs to women.

LTC Evans, who led 300 missions in a combat zone in Iraq, during Operation Iraqi Freedom II, is a proponent of equal opportunity, but ultimately, the fit needs to make sense.

“If there’s a high-speed female Soldier that can throw on a ruck and march as long and as far and as well as her male peers, then she should absolutely have that opportunity,” she said. “I don’t think every male Soldier is right for some of the positions in the Army, just like I don’t think every female Soldier is right for every position in the Army. But, if you evaluate Soldiers as a person and put the best person in the job, then I think we’re going in the right direction.”

But even just last year, LTC Evans said she felt she had to plead her case as to why she was the right person to serve as a task force commander for a counter-narcotics mission training military components in three Central American countries.

“There was some hesitation: is a female going to get the same respect from these other countries because they don’t have females in leadership roles and because of the cultural differences between us?” she recalls. In the end, she was told by several high ranking officials, both in the U.S. and in Central America, “You proved to us that this can work. Women can do this and do it with record-setting results.”

For LTC Evans, that mission was a chance to inspire cultural change in other countries. In her own unit and within the Florida Army National Guard, she enjoys the opportunity to develop and mentor Soldiers.

“I think I’m extremely fortunate to be a female in the Army National Guard because of the opportunities I have to be a role model to others, both male and female. I have the ability to show younger Soldiers coming in that anything is possible regardless of your gender.”

Her advice for anyone considering joining the Guard is gender neutral.

“Go in all in. Push yourself. Don’t be scared. Challenge yourself to be more and do more because you will get 10 times in return whatever you put in.”

She looks at the Guard’s future as being full of possibilities.

“There are great opportunities. We could sit here and focus on the past where there were restrictions on females serving in certain roles, but let’s all move past that. Let’s appreciate where we’ve come from, but let’s focus on the opportunities all Soldiers have to lead our Army into the future.”

So, if you are curious about all the opportunities within the Guard, our job board is a great place to start. You can search Guard careers by keyword, location, or category. There are more than 150 options available in fields like armor and field artillery, intelligence, and logistics support, just to name a few. Contact your local recruiter for more information.

Share on FacebookShare on Twitter