JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. – Here in the U.S. March is Women’s History Month, an opportunity to recognize the contributions of women the good of the. As the role of women in the military continues to evolve, this month also represents a chance to salute the service of both the female warriors who came before and those currently serving.
Seeking to encapsulate this goal into one article, I reached out to the 62nd Medical Brigade, knowing that women have a long, proud history of serving as nurses prior to their inclusion into the military and most recently as combat medics during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I asked to interview a “hard-working, Army-loving, incredible female soldier” and was quickly pointed in the direction of Sgt. 1st Class Madeline Diaz, platoon sergeant for Alpha Company, 47th Combat Support Hospital.
During the interview, Diaz, 15 years into her own career, was quick to offer her deepest respect for the women who laid the groundwork for her to hold her current position.
“We have to look back to look forward. I have to think about the women who came before me,” said Diaz, a Queens, N.Y., native. “When you think back to the origins of the United States military there were no females, and when the Women’s Army Corps was introduced, they were given limited roles and limited leadership opportunities. Over time as society changed, the opportunities available to women changed, and I know, that if it wasn’t for dedicated, inspired women who pushed forward and consistently upped the ante, and requested more opportunities, I wouldn’t be where I am.”
Where she is now is far from where she began; a 17-year-old girl hungry to travel and uncertain about her educational prospects. Diaz had never considered joining the Army until she met a recruiter at a local college fair, but she liked what she heard, particularly the chance to get out of New York and see the world. The biggest hurdle, she said, was convincing her Irish mother to go along with the plan. Which, eventually, is exactly how it played out and the young Diaz went off to basic combat training the summer after she graduated from high school, transitioning from the Army Reserve into active duty service in 1998.
Diaz said she was attracted to the medical field out of a desire to help people, and improve their lives. One career highlight for Diaz was volunteering to teach basic medical techniques to the Honduran Air Force.
“One day a week I would meet with the Honduran Air Force. I brought our medical equipment and a couple of our Spanish-speaking Soldiers from the 258th Military Police Company I was supporting. It was really rewarding to be able to train forces from another country on how to take care of themselves and sustain their force. They never had that training before, and it’s like you are bridging the gaps between countries,” said Diaz. “We maintained a really good relationship the entire time we were stationed there.”
Diaz said that as she remained in the Army she realized helping people was not specific to the medical field but was something she was in a prime position to do as a noncommissioned officer.
“My favorite part about being a platoon sergeant is being able to do things for my soldiers that maybe weren’t done for me. Over the course of my career, I’ve had good leaders and I’ve had not-so-effective leaders, and when reenlistment time would come around for me, and I would have to decide if I wanted to stay in or get out, and I stayed in because I wanted to share my experiences with my soldiers,” said Diaz. “I knew I had more to give as an NCO. I decided that this is going to be my contribution, and as a mother, I want to be able to make my son proud. When I get out of the military, my son will be six-years-old, and I want him to be proud of his mom and what I have done.”
Diaz said it is pivotal that the right noncommissioned officers choose to make the Army their career because if they opt to get out, their seniors, peers and subordinates lose out on the wealth of their knowledge.
“Every good or bad thing that happens in a soldier’s career should be a tool that they can put in their tool box, and they can take it and share it with others. The Enlisted Corps as a whole will thrive if we share our experiences,” said Diaz. “Every day that I wake up, whether I am having a good day or a bad day, every one of these soldiers, all 28 of them, they motivate me to bring my best game.”
Diaz said her biggest advice for soldiers is to take advantage of any opportunity to better themselves. Diaz has completed an associate degree in business administration, bachelor’s degree in human resource management and is two classes shy of completing her master’s degree in organizational leadership. She encourages soldiers to look into taking free CLEP (College Level Examination Program) tests and translating their military training into college credits.
She explained that as her degree plan progressed she noticed that many of the skills from her civilian education overlapped with the leadership techniques she needed to develop to become a better NCO and vice versa. Professional development and goal setting is important to Diaz.
“My biggest source of professional satisfaction is when I go to WLC graduation, and I see my soldiers walking across the stage full of pride. Or when I get my soldiers into classes that they need to help develop themselves,” said Diaz. “I’m not going to be here forever, and I need to make sure you are trained and ready to take over the reins. I always tell them it’s a ‘proud mama’ moment for me when they get promoted. I want them to move ahead with their careers and do great things.”
Her level of interest in the lives of her soldiers has already made a world of difference to some within her ranks.
“I look up to sergeant Diaz as a leader and a female soldier. Her commitment to being the best and doing everything to the best of her ability has made a big impression on me,” said Spc. Stacey O’Brien, A Company, 47th CSH, combat medic.
She said that Diaz has an infectious way of spreading motivation throughout the platoon, setting the stage for their day at morning formation with her enthusiasm and also creating an environment where soldiers feel they can reach to her for help.
“She is always there to talk to. I feel like if there was ever a problem I could go to her, and she would take it with grace, and get me whatever I needed to fix the problem,” said O’Brien. “Recently she encouraged me to go to the education center and work to get my GT score up. I feel like no one else believed in me before in that regard.”
Diaz still has some goals of her own. She is slated to take Battle Staff Noncomissioned Officers Course later this year, and she would love to be a first sergeant one day, but when she does retire from the military, she will do so with a feeling of pride.
“I’ve had some ups, I’ve had some downs, but I will be satisfied to know that I have traveled the world, and I was given the opportunity to serve. A lot of people don’t know that less than one percent of the United States has the ability to serve. Being able to know that I was one of those people, it’s going to make a difference to me. I’m going to be able to smile, look back, and say, ‘I did something great,’” said Diaz.
At the conclusion of the interview, I felt I had certainly been led in the right direction. Diaz was a great example of a female soldier giving her all to the Army. It was also reinvigorating to know that role models are not limited to the towering historical figures of the past; they are here at our finger tips. Here for us to learn from in our everyday lives.