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A First Sergeant's Path From Hardship To Successful Army Career
by U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Warren Wright Jr.
November 22, 2016

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Serving in the U.S. Army provides Soldiers the opportunity to work with and learn from other Soldiers from a multitude of backgrounds. One of the most unique aspects of the Army is how many Soldiers come from varying countries and cultures from around the world.

For one Soldier, the dream of joining the Army began when she was in fifth grade with an idea on how she could bring her family out of financial hardship and allow them to stay in the U.S. without having to worry about how they would support themselves.

Born in Berkeley, California, 1st Sgt. Gina Aceves bounced back and forth between the U.S. and Mexico with her family. Every time money would become tight, the family would return to Guadalajara, Mexico in order to save up money to return to the U.S.

Oct. 12, 2016 - First Sgt. Gina Aceves, the senior enlisted leader of Headquarters Headquarters Company, 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, leads an accountability formation prior to the start of physical readiness. Aceves joined the Army more than 20 years ago after living in financial hardship most of her life in order to provide a better life for her family. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Warren W. Wright Jr., 1st ABCT Public Affairs Office)
Oct. 12, 2016 - First Sgt. Gina Aceves, the senior enlisted leader of Headquarters Headquarters Company, 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, leads an accountability formation prior to the start of physical readiness. Aceves joined the Army more than 20 years ago after living in financial hardship most of her life in order to provide a better life for her family. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Warren W. Wright Jr., 1st ABCT Public Affairs Office)

“Living in Mexico, we weren't rich,” explained Aceves. “We did have to wash our clothes by hand and the bathroom was for show. As far as the toilet, you couldn't flush it. You had to poor water into it to flush it. “

As many children do, Aceves still found ways to entertain herself while living in Mexico. Her uncles owned a barn along with hens and roosters that provided her with something to play with.

“One of the things I did was play with the hens and run after the little chicks,” Aceves said.

One of her first experiences with the animals involved her grandmother asking, “Which one do you like?”

“I was like ‘Oh, I like that one, she's so pretty!' And (my grandmother) grabbed it and she killed it,” said Aceves. “She meant which one did I want to eat, so I was just a little bit shocked because I was playing with it and she was like ‘let's pluck it and cook it.'”

Moving back and forth between Mexico and the U.S. caused some problems with Aceves' education. At times, she would miss whole school years during her time in Mexico, though she used the time she was in school wisely.

“I missed a lot of education growing up,” she said. “But fortunately I was able to pass all my tests when I was in high school and I graduated high school.”

Graduating high school was the first step in completing her goals of being able to provide a better life for her family, a goal she had since fifth grade when she first meet an Army recruiter during career day.

Aceves explained that after meeting the recruiter, she exclaimed “Oh, my gosh, I'm going to join the Army and I'm going to have money and my family will never have to move to Mexico again.”

Upon graduating high school, she did just that.

To date, Aceves has been in the army a little more than 20 years and has held every leadership position from squad leader to her current position as the first sergeant for Headquarters Headquarters Company, 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, based at Fort Riley, Kansas.

“I love the Army,” she said. “The Army has taken care of me.”

Aceves first enlisted as a generator mechanic where she said she is proud that she was able to spend the first five years of her career doing the job she was trained for.

“That's something a lot of generator mechanics can't say because they go to a new unit and they're automatically cross trained to do other stuff without working on generators,” Aceves explained.

Since then, Aceves has served in a multitude of various positions within the units she served in, but one job holds the most importance for her.

“Being an (advanced individual training) platoon sergeant, that's one of the most important things I've done,” she said. “I was able to impact Soldiers first hand, take care of them and groom them for the next step before they hit permanent party.”

During her time as an AIT platoon sergeant, Aceves would regularly compete in various Army competitions which led to her being named AIT Platoon Sergeant of the Year and a runner up for the Combined Arms Support Command Ultimate Warrior Competition.

Now, as a first sergeant, she is responsible for the health, welfare, training, morale and professional development of approximately 200 Soldiers assigned to the 1st ABCT's headquarters company.

“You know that you can go to her and she's going to get things done, especially if it's an issue that's affecting her Soldiers,” said Sgt. Hijinio Gonzalez, the company's primary armorer. “She cares about her Soldiers. Her first priority at the beginning of the day and at the end of the day is making sure that we're taken care of. I've never seen anyone go through the lengths that she has for us.”

Another one of Aceves' Soldiers, Sgt. Angiselis Feliciano-Martell, said Aceves is a role model for her.

“We're both Hispanic so we understand each other very well,” said Feliciano-Martell. “She looks out for everyone's wellbeing. She genuinely cares.”

Both Aceves and Feliciano-Martell feel it's important to understand that all Soldiers come from different backgrounds and everyone should take the time to learn about all the various Soldiers that make up the Army.

“It's important because no matter what culture and no matter what race, we celebrate it to learn from one another, where everyone comes from and their backgrounds,” said Aceves. “At the end of the day, we have to remember that we are one Army and everyone is my brothers and sisters in arms.”

Feliciano-Martell feels that understanding the differences in heritage and background among the Soldiers she works with helps her to learn from the experiences of others.

“I think it's amazing that we all come from different places,” she said. “It's good for overall awareness; to know where your Soldier came from and to better understand them.”

Regardless of their background, it's Aceves goal to take care of all Soldiers and to ensure the Army's future leaders become successful.

“I always want to instill that leadership portion to NCOs and Soldiers,” she said. “I want to make sure I always make a positive impact on someone.”

Even with 20 years of service under her belt, Aceves isn't finished making a difference in the Army.

When asked about what's next for her, Aceves said, “I see myself staying in the Army and becoming a command sergeant major.”

By U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Warren Wright Jr.
Provided through DVIDS
Copyright 2016

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