Each year, the president of the United States designates Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 as National Hispanic Heritage Month – a national celebration of the history, culture and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America. In recognition of Hispanic Heritage Month, we bring you the story of Lt. Cmdr. Martha Rodriguez who was recognized as this year’s Latina Style Meritorious Service Award Winner.
With 11 statutory missions, from search and rescue to law enforcement to environmental protection, the Coast Guard needs a wide variety of skill sets and backgrounds to succeed. Leading the charge to increase diversity within the Coast Guard, Lt. Cmdr. Martha Rodriguez knows we are stronger as an organization because of our differences. Thanks to members like her, the Coast Guard is a vibrant, dynamic service branch that has consistently met every challenge put before it.
As a judge advocate in the Coast Guard’s legal program, Rodriguez worked tirelessly to increase diversity in the program itself and service wide. As a direct result of her efforts, more than 2,500 students were reached, 366 applications were submitted and 34 new Coast Guard lawyers were accepted, 17 percent of whom are Latina.
Rodriguez advocates for military men and women as a member of the Association of Naval Services Officers, which promotes the growth, advancement and recognition of Hispanic members of the Coast Guard, Navy, Marine Corps and Merchant Marine. She also served as the Coast Guard representative on the board of directors and was essential in the planning of two national conferences.
“Since I’ve known her, she has always been genuinely enthusiastic about improving the opportunities of others,” said Lt. Cmdr. Rick Angelet, a fellow member of the Association of Naval Services Officers. “She is the first person I think of when someone needs a mentor. She wants others to succeed and it was fun having her on our team.”
As a lawyer in the Coast Guard, Rodriguez deals with the full gamut of the law: criminal law, military justice, operations, international activities, civil advocacy, claims and litigation, procurement, environmental and property law, internal organizational law, regulations and administrative law, legislative support and legal assistance. While that no doubt creates a tremendous caseload, Rodriguez still finds time to give back and is exceptionally generous with her time as she mentors enlisted members and junior officers in addition to local high school students.
Her heritage, and those of the service’s men and women, is also important to her. Working with Coast Guard historians, she founded an initiative to identify formerly unrecognized achievements within the Coast Guard legal program by underrepresented minorities. As a result of her research and advocacy, previously unknown stories will be entered in the official Coast Guard historical record.
Rodriguez is an example of how strong organizations ensure not only their ability to survive but thrive after each successive generation of service members. The future of the Coast Guard is strong thanks to the efforts of Rodriguez and shipmates like her.