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From Enlisted to Officer - 175th Airman Recognizes Importance of Diversity

  • Published
  • By SrA Rachel Underwood
  • 175th Wing

Warfield Air National Guard Base, Md. -- When forming a team, U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. Andrea Chaves, a clinical nurse with the 175th Medical Group, Maryland Air National Guard, recognizes the importance of having Airmen with different backgrounds to move towards mission success.

During her monthly drill at Warfield Air National Guard Base, Chaves is the officer-in-charge of the laboratory that handles vaccinations and blood draws. Working together with her fellow Airmen, they take care of the medical needs and ensure the readiness of the 175th Wing. Her diverse team makes sure Airmen get what they need and quickly gets them back to their shops.

One of her first missions after joining the medical group in 2020 was after the second round of COVID vaccinations were already being administered. The operations tempo was high to make sure Airmen were prepared to respond to any mission within state or overseas.

“We were processing upwards of 50 to 100 people on drill weekends, so I definitely got my feet wet fast,” said Chaves. “That was definitely a challenge but it was rewarding because our base did end up doing very well.”

Chaves was inspired by her sisters to join the Maryland Air National Guard in 2012, who are also part of the 175th Wing. One sister works in intelligence and the other supports the Wing headquarters staff.

Her close family celebrates their Hispanic heritage. Both of Chaves’ parents are immigrants, each bringing their own diverse cultures into her household. Her father is from Costa Rica and her mother is from the Dominican Republic.

“I am Latino and get to see a little bit of the Caribbean and the Central American aspects of both,” said Chaves. “While my parents are both from different areas of Latin America, and they are very different, there are many similarities.”

Seeing how other cultures blended together, helped her when initially served with the Emergency Management Flight, which falls under 175th Civil Engineering Squadron, and worked closely with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, conducting incident response mitigation.

During a 2018 deployment to Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar, Chaves worked as part of a nine-person shop to prepare the base for potential emergencies. Their focus was “revitalizing the Shelter-in-Place program” and coordinating bi-monthly training exercises in the emergency operations center, an integral part to the readiness of the largest U.S. military base in the Middle East.

“What I love most about being in the military is being surrounded by the diversity of our Airmen,” said Chaves. “Whenever I get the chance to train or deploy with the military I am always surrounded by all of the different colors and cultures that make our Air Force a family.”

While she gained substantial experience while deployed, she realized she wanted to change career paths. Chaves earned her associates degree from the Community College of Baltimore County.

Knowing she wanted to commission and “do something more for the Air National Guard,” she got a bachelor's degree of science in nursing and submitted an officer package to the 175th Medical Group.

“I think that my experience as an enlisted member has allowed me to become a great officer because for the first eight years of my career, I was the ‘working dog’,” said Chaves, who is also a civilian traveling nurse and works at a 26-bed general intensive care unit in Rockville, Maryland. “Now that I'm an officer, I am the first one to get down and dirty and work with the Airmen, which allows my team to collaborate really well with one another.”

She is grateful for “the experiences, people, and education benefits the Guard has afforded her” and plans to continue to serve her state and nation. Even though college was free for her through the Air National Guard benefits, she has no desire to stop learning.

She wants to share her experiences with others. She loves interacting with a diverse group of people, “especially the new Airmen.”

“Each member of the military is unique and brings different ideas and perspectives, which allows us to be as powerful and resilient as we are,” said Chaves. “I feel so incredibly fortunate and proud to come from a hardworking, diverse Latin American family and to be able to share everything I’ve learned from them with my Air Force family.”