I was seventeen and still in high school when I joined the Marine Corps. After boot camp, I was assigned to drive large military trucks in the Transport Pool, a challenge for someone of my stature. I discovered being a Marine was hard, but being a female Marine was a hundred times harder. I had to be stronger, smarter, and faster than my male counterparts. Regardless of the challenges, sleepless nights, and the emotional pain, I loved the Corps. Putting on my uniform gave me a sense of pride and accomplishment.
While in the Corps, I got pregnant with my daughter. It became more difficult when God, country, and Corps came first before raising my child. Leaving her for long periods was painful. I missed many of her firsts, including the joy of hearing her call me “Mommy”. Disappointment in my leadership’s lack of support and frustration dealing with peers’ sexist mentalities made it difficult to do my job. After much deliberation, I knew I had to put my daughter first. On September 11, 2015, I put my uniform to rest. It was an emotional, bittersweet day. I loved my country and the Corps, but I needed to move ahead and make a life for my daughter and me.
My mother taught me to be a fighter and not depend on anyone. She inspired me to be successful and fueled my drive to accomplish more in life. With her words in mind after leaving the Corps, I pursued and recently completed associate degrees in Business Administration and Real Estate at American River College. With the support of family, friends, and the ARC Veteran Resource Center (VRC), I was given the tools needed to reintegrate back into civilian life and pursue my educational goals.
When I started out in the VRC I was part of the work-study program. I now serve fellow Veterans as a clerk, continuing the opportunity to help change one Veteran’s life by sharing information and welcoming him or her into a caring community the same way my fellow Veterans helped me.
I am very proud to be a Woman Veteran and a Marine. But by far, the accomplishment I am proudest of is being a mom.
Dulce Romero, the winner of the CalVet Trailblazer Award, motioned us into a private office. At first hesitant, the young veteran shared the challenges and demands she faced when she joined the Marines. “It was a pivotal decision that changed my life. While serving, I felt I had to prove myself by working harder than the men on all levels. Looking back I realized my military training and my mother’s belief in me gave me the courage and confidence to move forward in my life. I completed my education, purchased a home, and feel honored every day to be part of a great team of people who assist my fellow veterans at the ARC Veteran Resource Center.”
Honoring Dulce’s request to be photographed outdoors, we chose the Phoenix Vernal Pool Recreation area in Fair Oaks. Dulce arrived with her support team: boyfriend Tony and her best friend, Brittany, a fellow Marine veteran. When the wind kicked up, they gave us a hand with the lights, held the reflectors and assisted Dulce during the photo session.
With a brilliant sunset behind her, Dulce’s arms are wrapped around a photograph of her three-year-old daughter, a sweet reminder of the future she embraces every day. Next to her on the fence post is the cover, she wore: a symbol of the determination and personal strength she developed while serving in the U.S. Marines.
Photo by James R. Morrison Photography