LATHAM, N.Y. – At age 15, Elsa Canales arrived in the Long Island suburb of Selden from El Salvador. She spoke very little English. Her parents and five older siblings had left their Central American country to escape rampant violence in 1999.
Nineteen years later, New York Army National Guard Captain (CPT) Elsa Canales is an experienced logistics officer and company commander with nine years of service, a degree from the State University of New York, Stony Brook, and two deployments to Kuwait.
Latina Style Magazine recognized CPT Canales for her military accomplishments during its annual National Latina Symposium, where 12 women serving in the Armed Forces were honored.
CPT Canales represented the Army National Guard.
Being part of the event was a terrific experience, CPT Canales says. Not so much because she got an award, but because of the women she got to meet there.
“A lot of times you think that you are a minority, but when you see so many women in a room full of female generals and colonels, it gives you hope that one day you can be in those positions,” she says.
“I’ve always been proud of being Latina, but just being in that room and hearing amazing stories made (me) kind of feel like, ‘wow!’” she says.
She’s the second New York Army National Guard officer to be honored by the magazine. In 2017, Colonel (COL) Isabel Smith, chief of staff of the 53rd Troop command, received the award.
CPT Canales entered the Army relatively late. She commissioned in 2009 when she was 26; four years older than officers who enter college at 18 and then commission four years later.
After finishing high school, she worked on an associate’s degree at a local community college before going on to Stony Brook for her bachelor’s degree.
At Stony Brook she went to a job fair, and saw a table set up by National Guard recruiters.
“I started looking at the pictures and I thought, ‘that looks awesome,’” she remembers. “I went back home and started thinking about it, and I thought, ‘What better way to give back to this country that gave so much to my family, than to actually join and serve.’”
So Elsa Canales, college student, also became ROTC Cadet Elsa Canales, and then Second Lieutenant (2LT) Elsa Canales when she graduated.
Her first assignment as a lieutenant in the New York Army National Guard was in Company G of the 427th Brigade Support Battalion.
In 2012 she deployed to Kuwait as part of the battalion’s Company D. Once in Kuwait, she was assigned as the executive officer to the forward support company working for the South Carolina Army National Guard’s 4th Battalion, 118th Infantry.
She got back from that Kuwait deployment, and then went back overseas in 2013 with the 642nd Aviation Support Battalion.
She had transferred into the unit for a captain’s position, and when she learned the unit was deploying, she figured it was her duty to go with it, CPT Canales says.
On that deployment she was an assistant operations officer working in the battalion headquarters.
Since returning from Kuwait she’s worked as an operations officer in the joint operations staff in Latham and in the logistics section of the 42nd Infantry Division, and served in the headquarters of the 427th Brigade Support Battalion.
Currently, CPT Canales works full-time as a Department of Defense civilian employee in the Operations and Training Directorate at New York National Guard Headquarters, while also serving as the commander of Company A of the 427th Brigade Support Battalion.
CPT Canales applied to be considered for the Latina Style award only because COL John Andonie, the New York Army National Guard’s chief of staff, told her she should.
COL Andonie says he asked CPT Canales to apply for the award because she is an excellent officer, and he thought she would be a great representative of the Army National Guard in general, and New York in particular.
So CPT Canales filled out the paperwork that asked questions about her career and background, and forgot about it. Then at annual training, she got an email saying she had been selected as the Army National Guard winner.
The best thing about winning the award, CPT Canales says, was being able to be part of an event with so many women with the shared background of a Hispanic heritage and being in the military.
She’s used to being only one of two or three female officers in a meeting, CPT Canales says. And the fact that she has an accent makes her stand out even more.
“You have to make sure that you make a good first impression,” she says.
But being there with all those other successful Latina military women made her realize that “anything is possible.”
So, if you’re interested in exploring your possibilities for the future, the Army National Guard is a great choice, offering more than 150 careers in areas like logistics, administration, infantry, transportation, and more. You can research each and every opportunity on our job board. Besides the training you’ll receive, you’ll also get great benefits like money for college to help further your career.
From an original article by Eric Durr, New York National Guard, which appeared in the news section of NationalGuard.mil in September.