PACAF Airman’s Hispanic heritage fuels passionate career

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. John Linzmeier
  • 154th Wing

JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, HI -- At 17 years old, Antonieta Jara embarked on a solo journey from Ecuador to the United States, carrying with her only two suitcases, a few memorized English phrases, and aspirations to forge a better future.

This move marked her reunion with her birth country; however, the young teen felt a profound sense of dislocation and overwhelm, having no recollection of the United States after migrating to Ecuador as a toddler.

Nothing about her situation felt easy, but Jara said she held onto a no-fail mentality, stemming from the many strong women in her family who always set high expectations of her.

“That’s just how things were at home,” she said. “If there was something that was difficult that needed to get done, it was expected of us to always find a way. I think that’s one of those qualities that you’ll find across many Hispanic cultures, we are stubborn, feisty, don’t give up easily, and we are quick to adapt to achieve our goals.”

Over the next two years, Jara diligently worked towards earning a college degree, juggling multiple part-time jobs to stay afloat. The relentless cycle of studies and work left her little room for leisure or adequate rest.

She would later say this period of her life was unsustainable and could have led to her becoming “one of the statistics.” However, she was finally able to change her trajectory after having a fortunate conversation with a veteran classmate.

“He helped me recognize that what I needed was economic stability, and he assured me that joining the military would solve that for me and much more,” said Jara. “So, after talking to him, I went to a recruiter and ended up making the best decision of my life.”

Airman Jara completed a four-year enlistment as a Public Health Technician, emerging with a wealth of experience, a healthy savings account, and a fully funded education opportunity through the Post-9/11 GI Bill. She felt a sense of responsibility to give back and chose to continue her service with the Air Force Reserves while pursuing a biology degree.

During her Active Duty service, she crossed paths with another individual who would impact her life. Her partner Miriam Hernandez, Jara found herself inspired by and wholeheartedly drawn to Miriam's qualities, such as intelligence, ambition and self-confidence. But just as intriguing, Jara also said Hernandez’s background was profoundly relatable, as she immigrated from Mexico and also climbed her way to finding a thriving career in the Air Force.

Both of them completed several military tours together in Texas, Virginia, and finally, Hawaii, where Miriam retired, and Jara joined the Hawaii Air National Guard.

Unlike Jara’s previous assignments, she said this was the first time she experienced such a diverse set of cultures within the military. It was seen throughout command sections, including high-ranking female leaders who were also considered minorities.
“A diverse force is important because it shows the make-up of our country,” she said. “Leveraging in other people's backgrounds facilitates strategic bonds with other countries by understanding how to better communicate our objectives to form new collaborative efforts across the globe.”

After joining the 154th Medical Group and becoming a senior noncommissioned officer, Jara, was given the opportunity to volunteer in several missions such as Hilo’s volcanic eruption and Covid-19 response where she demonstrated her professionalism and stewardship skills. With the support of the 154 MDG leadership, she was commissioned as a Public Health Officer in 2021.

Now, as a 1st Lieutenant, Jara is continuing her support to the Office of the Surgeon General Pacific Air Forces as the Executive Officer and is just getting started in the next big chapter in her career.

“I was already in the military for 14 years before I commissioned,” she said. “If anyone has any doubts that it’s too late for them, concerns about their skin color, concerns about having an accent, or a different background, I think that the Air Force opens its doors for a lot of people who are just like me. The best I can hope for is that when people see me and all the success I’ve had in my career, is for them to see a reflection of themselves. I want others to know that they can get to places too as long as they trust in their abilities and work hard to achieve their goals.”