Leap of faith

April 8, 2023

For Jessica Sanchez, taking the leap wasn’t always easy. But after joining the Air Force, it became her new motto.

Sanchez’s parents were born in Mexico, and like many first-generation Mexican American students, she did not have a lot of guidance when it came to school. Despite finishing high school a year early, she had no plans after graduation. After speaking to a recruiter, she joined the Air Force and became the first in her family to serve in the military, serving for five years in Space Command, which is now Space Force.

“I took the leap, and from then on, everything I’ve done has been that same model,” she said. “Take the leap. Just go for it and do it because you’ll come out better on the other side.”

The military introduced Sanchez to nonprofits, which is how she became the manager of a nonprofit organization in her community. She is also the owner of TheColorPOP Print Studio in Grand Prairie, has written two e-books and serves on the Gildan Board of Decorators.

Sanchez was 17 when she was sent to boot camp for six weeks. As the youngest and one of the only women in her unit during basic training, she faced much adversity.

Take the leap. Just go for it and do it because you’ll come out better on the other side.

— Jessica Sanchez, Air Force veteran

She was housed in dorms where “there were drugs, alcohol and anything you could think of that happens in university dorms.” The dorms Sanchez lived in for six weeks were not separated by gender.

“A lot of stuff happened in the dorm rooms after hours,” she said. 

The military is a male-dominated field and many women experience sexual assault or harassment during their service, including Sanchez.. 

“There was no one I could talk to, and I didn’t have the resources,” she said.

Afraid of what would happen if she spoke out about the abuse she endured, she didn’t tell anyone until she left boot camp.

Other panelists also discussed the challenges that came with being women in the military.

Montague, the daughter of two Army parents who enlisted at the age of 22 and served for eight years as a supply sergeant for a medical logistics company, recalled the discomfort that came with being around large groups of male soldiers during her first deployment in Qatar. 

“There wasn’t a lot of control and restriction, so it fell back on the female soldiers,” said Montague, who served as a Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention coordinator for her unit. “It got to a point where we couldn’t wear certain things to the gym, instead of leadership taking the time to say, ‘Hey, guys, males, control yourself. Don’t do this.’”

The panelists said women in the military are forced to be strong and confident since they constantly have to prove themselves to their male peers. 

Shorter added that sexual harassment from leadership was not uncommon.

“When I’m a private first class, and a gunner sergeant who’s supposed to be my leader is coming onto me, I have no guidance,” she said. “But that’s not being done to male Marines.”

While efforts to combat sexual harassment in the military have been made, many female service members fear that reporting harassment will keep them from being promoted.

“Retaliation can come out in so many ways, with honorable discharge and medical discharge,” Small said.  “All of these other things that have nothing to do with service end up a part of what you went through.”

Despite the challenges she endured, Sanchez said her military experience was life-changing. She started the first Hispanic Heritage Organization on Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs and continues to help educate and train people in her community who want to start their own business.

“The military really helped me become the woman I am today and helped me be that person that decided to take the leap,” she said.

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