CAMP TAJI, Iraq — Overcoming the odds and creating a better life sometimes means walking away from the safe and easy to pursue a different path.
For one Soldier in the 1st Air Cavalry Brigade there is no looking back, even if she gave up her college scholarship to join the Army.
As the Army celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month, Pfc. Yamilette Bautista, from Woodland, Calif., a strength management clerk with 1st ACB, 1st Cavalry Division, can safely say she did just that.
Bautista, 19, who was born in San Diego, said all her family is from Tequila, Mexico, where they continue to live today and where she herself spent some of her formative years.
"My mother left me with my grandmother when I was six months old and I lived in Mexico until I was five," Bautista said. "The memories of living there are hard to forget."
The way of life in Mexico was far different, Bautista said, with a strong emphasis on family interaction.
"You're always with your family, especially on Sunday, which is always family day," Bautista said. "Everybody gets together; it doesn't matter if you're five hours away."
"There's always family in the house and at night the neighborhood comes together for bonfires. There is so much culture there, but over [in the U.S.] there are more opportunities. In Mexico you live one day at a time.
At the age of five, Bautista moved back to the U.S., where she lived with her mother and siblings.
"Every two or three years I go to Mexico, spend some time and come back," Bautista said. "I love going back there because you can relax, it's your culture. They have so many things there they don't anywhere else."
Bautista adjusted to life in the U.S. and worked as hard as she could at school, trying to set herself up for a successful future.
"I had an academic scholarship because I always tried my best at school. But it was too hard with just me, my siblings and my mom. I was working and it took me hours to get to school."
"But once I had my college paid for I had all these other expenses. I also had to work and give my mother the money," she continued. "It was hard for me to have what I wanted but at the same time keep helping my family.
This made it impossible for Bautista to accept her college scholarship and left her pondering what direction to take with her life.
One thing she said she did not want was to take the traditional route expected.
"Usually with my family it's about getting married at a young age and I wanted to prove that you can do something else with your life. Even though you're a female you don't have to get married young. I was trying to get out of that routine and circle."
Shunning this direction, Bautista decided to join the Army just a month after graduating from high school, a decision she initially regretted.
"I worked really hard to get that scholarship and I gave it up as soon as I joined the Army. But when I really think about it now, I don't regret it because the Army has opened up so many opportunities and I get help to go to college."
Bautista said her initiation into the Army was hard, having to go straight from her initial entry training to an immediate deployment in Iraq.
"I was at Fort Hood for three weeks and I deployed, so Iraq is my first real unit. I've been coping with it well, however, and I have great support."
Helping Bautista adjust into her deployment is Sgt. 1st Class Trevor Davis, from Timmonsville, S.C., her platoon sergeant, who said he has been impressed by Bautista's attitude and adaptability.
"She is a hard worker and always where she is supposed to be and I don't have to talk to her about being late or anything like that. She is a quick learner and came in here and picked everything up."
As Bautista continues to gain Army experience, she said that she finds few Hispanics in the Army with a background similar to hers and is grateful when she does.
"It's rare to meet someone that really speaks the language because many [Hispanic Americans] were born and raised in America. It makes me feel happy to meet them, because being Mexican is a part of you. You can relate to them."