Capt. Jo-Ann Burdian, Petty Officer 2nd Class Laura Morales, First Class Cadet Abigail Valadez, and Carla Garcia were recently recognized as the Coast Guard’s 2021 LATINA Style Distinguished Military Service Award recipients. This award honors military and civilian women from all branches, as well as one cadet from each military academy, who have influenced and enhanced the role of Hispanic and Latino Americans throughout their respective organizations. The award is traditionally presented to coincide with National Hispanic Heritage Month, which is observed annually from September 15 to October 15.
Each recipient demonstrated outstanding service, leadership, accomplishment, and commitment to the mission and their community during the award period of August 2020 to July 2021.
Morales, an Operations Specialist from Sector Buffalo, shared her reaction about winning this award and touched on her experiences while serving in the Coast Guard as a first-generation American born to Colombian parents. For Morales, receiving this award is extremely personal. “Being appreciated and recognized like this shows that I make a difference. I jumped with excitement when I found out I had won.”
Morales is the first in her family to graduate from college, ultimately joining the military. “It’s very meaningful to me to serve in the Coast Guard as a first-generation American,” said Morales. “I joined the service because I felt that I owed it to this country for giving my family endless opportunities when they arrived here from Colombia.”
As a leader at Sector Buffalo’s Command Center Training Team, Morales showcased her technical and tactical proficiency when she established new training templates, prepared the command center for Standardization Team assessments and developed a new training team platform that all 31 members of the command center followed for currency requirements.
Besides Morales’ efficiency on the watch floor, her personal emphasis towards local and international community engagement makes her stand out. She has accumulated over 100 hours volunteering with several charities, hosting events, getting other service members involved, and tutoring students both local to her Sector Buffalo community and abroad in Colombia.
Morales embraces her Latin heritage, her upbringing, and the experiences they provided her while carrying her unique perspectives and voice throughout all her military duties and community outreach.
“What I love most about my Latin heritage is how humble it has made me,” said Morales. “I do the things that I do because I believe that any small act of kindness can change a life, whether you know it or not.”
Acts of strength and resilience reverberate throughout the Coast Guard and are evident in the accomplishments of each of the recipients of the 2021 LATINA Style Distinguished Military Service Award:
As Sector Miami commander, Burdian creates innovative ways to increase cultural awareness and empowers others to do the same. Burdian is a strong supporter of the afloat career path and hosted a Women Afloat Leadership Seminar and a Women Enlisted Afloat Seminar.
Burdian is an advocate and leader in the local community and acts as a key member of the Women’s Leadership Initiative South Florida Chapter.
As a cadet at the Coast Guard Academy (CGA) Valadez helped pioneer the first virtual Academy Introductory Mission (AIM) program there, which is the largest recruiting tool for the academy. Her role as Regimental Battalion AIM Officer assisted in reaching over 1,000 potential CGA cadets of diverse backgrounds. Valadez is a servant leader who always puts her team’s needs before her own.
As Force Readiness Command’s (FORCECOM) Chief of Administration and External Affairs, Garcia guided the organization through the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic by integrating extensive reporting requirements from FORCECOM’s eight training centers and five divisions that enabled leadership to make critical response and resource decisions. While filling in for the gapped Civilian Resource Coordinator, she ensured 65 civilians received accurate performance evaluations and correlating performance awards.
Bravo Zulu to this year’s winners and all who were nominated for the award. The following nominees deserve mention for their outstanding contributions:
- Petty Officer 1st Class Jessika M. Garay, a yeoman at Coast Guard Air Station Sacramento, Calif;
- Lt. Patricia Liggett, Fifth Coast Guard District, Va;
- Petty Officer 1st Class Blake Funderburg, store keeper at FORCECOM, Va;
- Lt. Maria Villanueva, FORCECOM, Va;
- Lt. Ximena Johnson, Marine Safety Unit Houma, La;
- Chief Petty Officer MUC Megan Sesma, musician at U.S. Coast Guard Academy Band, Conn;
- Petty Officer 2nd Class Michaele Urena-Nogue, storekeeper at Coast Guard Air Station Atlantic City, N.J;
- Lt. Silvia Sigler, Sector Md. – National Capital Region;
- Cmdr. Yamaris Barril, CG-127, Coast Guard headquarters;
- Chief Warrant Officer Thana Rodriguez, Sector Northern New England, Maine;
- Petty Officer 2nd Class Jessica L. Contreras, yeoman Base Seattle;
- Petty Officer 2nd Class Daniela Meinhardt, maritime enforcement specialist, Patrol Forces Southeast Asia, Bahrain.
Civil Rights awards like the LATINA Style Distinguished Military Service Award helps to maximize the Coast Guard's overall mission effectiveness through recognition of members' accomplishments and contributions to Civil Rights and Equal Opportunity in minority communities and Partnership in Education (PIE) programs. For more information about the service’s Civil Rights awards programs and for nominating information, please contact Juan Torres.