Diverse experiences tailor the future

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Cheyenne Lewis
  • 325th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

Across the force, diverse backgrounds, experiences, demographics, perspectives, thoughts and organization are essential to the Air Force’s ultimate success in an increasingly competitive and dynamic global environment.

Born and raised in Barranquilla, Colombia, Tech. Sgt. Maria Cloherty, 325th Logistics Readiness Squadron equipment accountability noncommissioned officer in charge, has served over 13 years in the U.S. Air Force and believes her experiences better prepared her for leading individuals.

Cloherty moved to the United States with her parents and younger siblings using a green card. After starting college and beginning the process to obtain her U.S. citizenship, she decided to join the U.S. Air Force.

“I moved to America, specifically to New Jersey, in 2001,” said Cloherty. “I didn’t feel very fulfilled and I wanted something different. I joined the Air Force in 2008 and at my first duty station, I deployed to Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras. It gave me a completely new perspective of the Air Force and what I could do.”

Because of Cloherty’s Hispanic background, she was able to assist in a unique and unplanned way, during her deployment.

“While deployed to Honduras, I was given the opportunity to travel to Costa Rica and El Salvador to translate for medical patients,” continued Cloherty. “It was such a simple switch for me to speak Spanish, but it helped out so much. They started asking to me help in large-scale medical readiness exercises. It was such a cool moment that just naturally speaking was helping people in need be able to communicate.”

When she arrived at Tyndall and received an email mentioning the base’s Hispanic Heritage Association, she was immediately interested.

“I automatically wanted to be a part of something that was going to educate, bring awareness, and focus on Hispanic heritage,” Cloherty added. “I’m very proud of my heritage so something that can help out the base and means a lot to me, I’m there”.

At the first meeting she attended, Cloherty volunteered to be the group’s outreach representative.

“The military has many great things, but it also tends to put you somewhere where you leave friends and family behind,” stated Cloherty. “Just feeling like there’s a community of people who you can identify with and relate to because you have similar experiences, that community connection can feel like a safe place.”

Throughout her career, Cloherty has taken multiple steps to educate troops on diversity as well as using her experiences to better assist Airmen. Day to day, this primarily consisted of correcting her wingmen on what they were ignorant to and helping them realize how others may perceive small comments or jokes that aren’t appropriate. She aims to create an environment where Airmen feel comfortable, regardless of their backgrounds.

Taking it a step further, she recently applied for the Air Force’s Language Enabled Airman Program. LEAP is a program designed for utilize the skills of Airmen who are already proficient in at least one foreign language. This program allows Airmen to remain in their primary career field while having the opportunity to use their language skills to help the Air Force in various ways. This includes, but isn’t limited to assisting in NATO exercises, humanitarian missions, working with the local communities in foreign countries, or helping notify next of kin of a fallen Airman when the next of kin doesn’t speak English.

“The LEAP program would give me that opportunity to help and make a change as a Hispanic person,” Cloherty concluded. “I still get to do my everyday job but there’s a system in place where I can TDY and help people using my language and culture”.