Hispanic Heritage Month is an annual celebration of Hispanic Americans' service and accomplishments throughout U.S. history. The celebration provides the U.S. Navy with an opportunity to highlight Hispanic Sailors both past and present.
Rear Admiral Christina M. "Tina" Alvarado, Commander, Reserve Component Expeditionary Medicine
Q: Why did you decide to join/serve the Navy?
A: After a few years of experience as a critical care nurse, I decided that I wanted to make a bigger difference in the lives of my patients and decided to pursue positions in health policy. I was working on Capitol Hill for the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs and met veterans of all recent wars, many of whom were catastrophically disabled by their war wounds.
Yet they fought on, had a fervent love of life and seemingly knew no limits. I decided that if they could continue to serve by fighting for veterans issues, then I could at least serve one weekend a month in the Reserves.
I was awe-struck by their energy and passion for improving the lives of the veterans who would come after them. While working in health policy, I continued to keep my clinical skills current by moon-lighting at a community hospital. My new veteran friends convinced me that joining the Reserves would be a great way to keep my clinical skills state of the art and serve my country. I was sold! Thus began my Navy career which started with a desire to serve and soon become a passion.
Q: Who have your role models or mentors been that have influenced you or helped to guide you?
A: I have been blessed to have many mentors, role models and cheerleaders from a very young age: family members, who became interwoven into the fabric of my being, my heart and my soul. For it is the family nucleus that has the most profound impact on the women we become.
My maternal grandmother was one such pioneer. She married a Mexican immigrant who passed away at an early age after losing a battle to alcohol dependence. Overnight she became a single parent, with total responsibility for my father and his sister. She had to fight hard to make a good life but she was determined to do so. This was Washington, DC in the 1940s. Women did not work much outside the home. Capitol Hill and the US Congress were in her back yard. At the time, only men held jobs as Congressional staff. Somehow she convinced a Congressman to hire her and she became one of the first women to work as Congressional staff. Her role paved the way for many others and years later, my Dad, me, my sister Donna and my sister Susan all held positions of significant seniority on Capitol Hill. I worked in both the House and the Senate.
All women today come into the world on the shoulders of the ones who came before them. From the earliest suffragettes to the first woman to travel to space - and all the delightful and fierce females in between, including my grandmother, mother and sisters. I ask you to recall the women heroes of your own personal story and join me in recognizing the important contributions women have made in the past. As role models I call upon you to make an impact on the life of another woman.
Q: Please tell us a story about someone, perhaps in your family or otherwise, who has influenced you or challenged you to become more than you ever thought you might.
A: Because my father was raised by a pioneering woman he believed there was little that women couldn't do. I come from a family of 7, 5 girls and 2 boys. From an early age we were told there is nothing you can't do, nothing that can't be accomplished with hard work, drive and ambition. There was no glass ceiling in my house and we were taught that any "limits" were the ones we placed on ourselves.
My father was a career Air Force officer and my mother was a nurse. My mother worked full-time while raising seven kids. They put all seven of us through college. We were encouraged to disregard gender biases and reach for our passion. My dad was my wisest advisor. He always said, "You will be fortunate to have a good job. You will be truly blessed to have a job you love." I found that passion in the United States Navy.
After 3 years in the Navy, I met my husband, Kieran Shanahan. Very quickly I saw in him the same qualities of wisdom, integrity and compassion as I admired in my own father. He is the rock who has sustained me through 27 years of military service. He is my biggest cheerleader and has challenged me to heights I never dreamed possible. The Navy demands a lot and there have been times when I thought about quitting but my husband Kieran has been there every time to lift me up and keep my carrying on.
Q: Please tell us which past assignments are the most memorable to you and why.
A: Surprisingly, my most memorable assignment has always been the one I just finished. I'm not kidding. I never intended to stay in the Navy this long. I always thought it would be something I would do for a few years and then go onto other challenges. But year after year, the assignments got more challenging and I became more bonded to my shipmates and I couldn't see myself leaving. I have 27 years in and will finish at 30. Of course in retrospect my tour as Commanding Officer of Expeditionary Medical Facility (EMF) Dallas One will be the assignment for which I am most grateful. I was the first nurse and one of the first women to ever Command that unit. Together, we stood up the first Reserve Expeditionary Medical Unit. Today there are 4 EMFs. It was a distinction I will never forget.
Q: What does being a leader in the Navy mean to you?
A: An opportunity to be a leader in Navy Medicine is the highest honor of my life. But leadership is not about the individual and it is not about me. Rather, it's about the Navy and our Nation and all whom I serve. I am merely a representative, a servant leader and though I wear my stars proudly, I also wear them with great humility never forgetting those who helped me along the way and, most importantly, remembering those whom I serve.
One of my favorite Southern sayings is that if you see a turtle sitting on a fence post, one thing is for sure - he didn't get there by himself. Nowhere does that ring more true than in military service. At this point in my career, leadership is all about preparing those who will come after me. I have had the tremendous honor of mentoring some incredibly talented men and women. In my mind the true measure of a leader lies in the success of those they lead and if this is true...I have all the success I need.
Reprinted from the U.S. Navy’s All Hands online magazine: http://www.navy.mil/ah_online/