Each year, from September 15 to October 15, the Nation celebrates National Hispanic Heritage Month, a time when we pause to honor the contributions Hispanics have made throughout history. For the Coast Guard, a diverse workforce enables us to accomplish our missions. In recognition of this month, Coast Guard Compass highlights two Hispanic Coast Guard members who were recently honored with the Latina Style Meritorious Service Award. Check out their stories below!
Each and every day, Coast Guard men and women of various background and heritages come together to accomplish a common mission.
Sometimes, people may think that these different background and experiences set men and women apart from one another. However, in the Coast Guard, it’s just the opposite. This diversity is something to be celebrated.
Recently, Latina Style Inc. recognized Coast Guard Capt. Dr. Maria-Paz Smith and Coast Guard employee Marilyn Fajardo as the awardees for the Latina Style Meritorious Service Award. Both Smith and Fajardo demonstrated themselves as leaders and advocates for diversity and the full integration of Latina women throughout the Armed Forces and the Federal Civilian workforce.
Capt. Dr. Maria-Paz Smith
Smith joined the U.S. Public Health Service in 1996 and brought her talents the Coast Guard several years later. She currently serves as the senior dental officer at Coast Guard Base Elizabeth City, North Carolina.
But dental service isn’t her only area of expertise. She’s committed herself to helping others by serving in Liga Interntational, an organization committed to providing medical care to the underprivileged throughout remote regions in Mexico. In joining, she learned French and Italian as well as how to pilot small aircraft in order to better reach remote areas in case of medical crises. In 2008, her skills were put to the test when she journeyed into an 8,000-foot deep canyon to serve the indigent Tarahumara Indians in Chihuahua, Mexico. That same year, she volunteered to serve during Operation Continuing Promise 2008, where she was deployed aboard the USS Boxer to bring humanitarian service to El Salvador and Peru.
In addition to helping the underprivileged, she is also a champion for diversity in the U.S. Coast Guard, for which she was recognized by Latina Style Inc.
“It enriches the force,” she said. “We work as a team, not bothered or prejudiced by the color, origin, sexual orientation of our co-workers [or] shipmates.”
Smith also identified why it is important to recognize leaders in the Latina community.
“Latinas are double minorities,” she said. “Latina Style exemplifies that minorities have an important role in the community and in society,” she said.
Fajardo began working for the Coast Guard in 2009 when she joined the Seventh Coast Guard District’s public affairs staff, where she currently serves as deputy public affairs officer.
Years earlier, Fajardo took her communication experience to begin her own consulting company to lead Hispanic communication efforts for top clients, which included local and national business along with Fortune 500 companies.
Alongside Smith, Fajardo also celebrates her heritage and the importance of recognizing contributions made by diverse groups.
“It’s through organizations like Latina Style that we are introduced to notable contributions made by Hispanic leaders and entrepreneurs who inspire us to achieve more, to give more and to do more for our families, our work and our communities,” she said.
Like Smith, Fajardo also recognizes the importance of maintaining a diverse workforce throughout the Coast Guard.
“As a Latina, I am very proud to work with an organization that strongly believes and embraces diversity from within,” Fajardo said. “I believe the more effective an organization is at supporting diversity and inclusion as part of a unified mission, the more engagement that organization will experience among its employees.”