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MAJOR GENERAL ANGELA SALINAS
U.S. MARINE CORP

“I credit where I am today because of my mom,” reflects Angela (Angie) Salinas, the first Latina to hold the position of brigadier general and only the sixth female in the Marine Corps to reach this rank. Salinas retired a Major General.

The youngest of five chidlren, Salinas was born in South Texas where she learned the value of hard work from her Mexican immigrant parents.

“My dad was an auto mechanic, and both my parents were very hard working with limited education,” Salinas points out.

During World War II, Salinas’ father was not eligible to serve in the Army and instead worked on the military base fixing aircrafts in Laredo, Texas. When Salinas was in second grade, the family moved to Vallejo in Northern California. There, she grew up in a diverse environment.

“What I remember from that was that I grew up in a melting pot and ethnicity was no big deal.”

Because her parents came from large families in South Texas, there were a lot of small ranchitos and the men would go out to work at a very young age.

“It was a part of growing up,” says Salinas. “I was raised with the attitude that you work hard, get an education, be honest, be honorable and be committed. It was just part of our culture.”

Salinas attended St. Vincent Ferrer [Catholic] High School Catholic high school, which was well regarded for its sports program. Salinas performed very well athletically, excelling in softball, basketball and soccer.

“I was able to develop leadership at a young age because being in an all-girls Catholic school, I didn’t have the pressure of being in a public school. I was involved in the elections for class president and student government.”

When Salinas was about to graduate from high school, she knew that going to college would be a big step.

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“When I got the opportunity, I wanted the education,” recalls Salinas. “I liked structure. I liked leadership, to volunteer and help others. I just wanted to do good. So when I decided to go to college, I entered a Catholic college in San Rafael that was known for its Humanities programs. I was just taking liberal arts classes because I never knew what I wanted to do.”

When she was sophomore at Dominican College, Salinas’ father became ill and she moved back to Texas with her brother.

“It was just my mom and I. So I worked in a coffee shop after school as a waitress and paid my tuition.”

With her dad ill, Salinas found it harder to focus on school.

“My mistake was not understanding what college equaled. I never had the speech, so I wasn’t doing well academically. I did well at partying, but I found out the hard way that they weren’t giving out grades for that. My mom wanted me to be a lawyer, as it equaled money, but I felt kind of lost and was probably ready to drop out of college.

"So here I am in San Rafael, California and I was making a trip to the post office next to the federal building and recruit center and I walked into a very tall, very sharp, very good looking Marine Recruiter. He approached me and I remember I just wanted to get away from him, like leave me alone. I’m just here to mail a letter.”

Soon enough, after a conversation with the recruiter about what she wanted to do, Salinas found herself taking a test and signing the dotted line. Within a week, Salinas was raising her hand and solemnly swearing to uphold and defend the Constitution.

“Before I knew it, I was already in boot camp at Parris Island, South Carolina, and I thought to myself, 'Oh my God what have I done!' But that was the best thing,” Salinas recounts. “I had my epiphany, everything made sense. And in the ten weeks I spent in recruit training, I developed discipline. I found motivation. I realized I had this passion and I absolutely fell in love with the United States Marine Corp. Their history, the traditions, the legacy, this sense of honor. It was like my new extended family. What was more important and what really ignited my passion, was everything the young recruiter said to me was true. That it was going to be hard and that I would be a female in a man’s world.”

Despite this obstacle, Salinas persevered. She found that this hurdle was a simple challenge compared to the challenge of telling her parents what she had decided to do.

“My parents did not know I joined the Marines until I was almost out of basic training,” says Salinas. “And when my mom found out, she was not happy. She thought I had dropped out of college and she could not understand a woman with guns. And I was the baby of the family! Here it was, 1974, the tail end of Vietnam. Hispanic women did not join the military. But I was thinking I need a job, I need job training.”

With the Marine Corps, Salinas found training not only for the workplace, but in life, working hard to overcome any obstacles that came her way. From her initial training in Parris Island, Salinas worked her way up, holding high-level positions throughout the Corps. Many of those times being the first woman to hold such a position.

“I never believed I would make this my career, and now I have a college degree and I have earned the right to be an officer,” says Salinas. “And then to be able to work with so many fabulous Marines, who taught me about leadership and who taught me to lead has been a privilege. The Marine’s are the best, the few and the proud. This is the mystique of the Marine Corp. The sense that we are tougher, the pride, the legacy—we connect it all back to our emblem. The Eagle, Globe and Anchor mean so much to us, it is our linkage to 1775 and as a female, I wore that Eagle, Globe and Anchor and I feel entrusted to pass that pride and legacy onward.”

For Salinas, serving in the Marine Corps has always been about her passion and her love for what she does.

“If you love what you do, you will never work another day in your life,” she says. “I love what I do. I have this passion and I love being a Marine. This is not a job for me. I am wearing the uniform as a way of life. I am not doing this for the money, I am doing this for the selflessness, the camaraderie, the sense of loyalty, this commitment, the ethics, the sense of service. For all those things.”

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Now as the first Latina to ever assume the role of Brigadier General, Salinas says she feels very blessed.

“The Marine Corp spent twenty eight years making me, so that I would fit this job,” she says.

But regardless of race and ethnicity, Salinas always wanted to get recognized for her hard work first.

“I am thankful to the Marine Corp for just treating me as a Marine first, and never looking at me by my gender and race and just rewarding me because I was a good officer.

“I don’t even think anyone paid attention to me being Hispanic until I became Lt. Colonel, and I did not make a big deal about it. Most of the time it was because I was the first female, because I was in a man’s world.”

But it was a trip home to Texas for a cousin’s wedding where Salinas had a slight change of heart.

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“So here I was sitting in the background, the Mariachi music was playing, most of my relatives speaking Spanish and the usual Mexican food and tequila, and I was thinking, ‘I could go see a good movie,’ then someone mentioned something about a Lt. Colonel in the Marine Corp and then people were clapping. So I started clapping as I wasn’t paying attention, then my sister said, ‘they are clapping about you.’ I looked around the room and everyone was looking at me, so I stood up. As I walked up, I had an epiphany looking into the faces of the people looking at me. I had this absolute kinship, it was like I represented hope and what I represented, I realized, this was not about me, it was that I represented a Latina in the military. I represented everything that everyone believed was good about this country. Freedom, a chance to be anything you wanted.

“From that moment on, I believed I owed my family and my extended Hispanic family to stand up and say, we all need to do this, we all need to serve. I wanted them to see that I made it to General, I went to college, I had to work hard, I didn’t get into gangs and I didn’t do drugs. If there is one male or female out there that is saying ‘I want to be like her,’ then it is all worth it. I feel very honored by Hispanics who look at me today and honor me with plaques and awards. Who say ‘thank you.' That is most the honoring to me. This is just one little piece to say, ‘Yes we can.’ Que si se puede. Si se puede.”

— Story by: Myra Sandoval - Photography and Interview by: Alfredo Perez (except studio photography)

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