By Army Capt. Thomas Cieslak
7th Special Forces Group (Airborne)
EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla., April 3, 2015 – “Master your trade and never, never, never quit! Enough motivation, persistence and willpower will get you through everything,” is the advice Army 1st Sgt. Sandrea Cruz gives to those seeking her mentorship.
Cruz serves as the first sergeant of the Group Support Battalion’s Sustainment and Distribution Company in the 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne) here. As the company’s senior noncommissioned officer, she is responsible for leading more than 150 men and women specializing in logistics and supply operations in support of the group’s training and missions.
A sense of patriotism and love of country motivated Cruz to enlist in the Army after the 9/11 terror attacks. Prior to her enlistment, Cruz was no stranger to the military.
Understanding the Stress
Born on Fort Stewart, Georgia, and raised in a military family, Cruz said, she fully understands the stress that Army service places on a soldier’s spouse and children. Her father, a Green Beret who served in both the 7th and 3rd Special Forces groups, drives her to excel in her daily duties, she said.
“My father is the epitome of what a soldier truly represents, both on and off duty,” Cruz said. “Even though he has since retired, he is one of the most disciplined and intelligent people I know. I said if there was anyone I could emulate, it would be him, because there was nothing that was unobtainable or out of reach to him in the military.”
Cruz said her most challenging assignment was her second duty assignment at Camp Hialeah, South Korea, with the 4th Quartermaster Detachment (Airborne). As a newly promoted sergeant with a little more than two years in the Army, Cruz served as the company supply sergeant and the unit’s armorer and ammunition manager. She also assisted in the company’s orderly room.
Demanding Workload Served as Foundation
A demanding workload, coupled with her responsibility to lead U.S. and South Korean soldiers, was her introduction to the Army’s noncommissioned officer corps, Cruz said, and she credits that for developing her into the leader she is today.
Army Sgt. 1st Class Celia Gonzalez was a significant influence in her early career, Cruz said. Gonzalez, a parachute rigger by trade and the first Hispanic female to serve with the Golden Knights, was Cruz’s platoon sergeant in South Korea. Though she was not a qualified parachutist at the time, Cruz was given the opportunity to get on a C-130 aircraft and observe Gonzalez performing duties as a primary jumpmaster.
“There was something quite thrilling and inspirational about watching her rake static lines and move parachutists out of the aircraft,” Cruz said. “This motivated me to not only go to Airborne School, but eventually become a jumpmaster myself, which I never planned to do.”
Instilling Confidence in Soldiers
Selected in late 2014 to lead soldiers here as a first sergeant, Cruz is one of two women in the group serving as the senior NCO in a company, with another leading troops in the Group Support Battalion’s headquarters element. She routinely performs duties as a jumpmaster, working hard to instill confidence into soldiers anxious about the inherent dangers of airborne operations.
Cruz’s husband also serves in the Army as a Green Beret in the 7th Group. He leads and trains other Special Forces soldiers, preparing them for deployments to austere locations far away from logistics lines.
More than 13 years have passed since Cruz enlisted, and she has been a first-hand witness to the numerous cultural changes the Army has undergone. Women, she noted, have a lot more opportunities in the military than when she joined. They now serve in assignments previously closed to them, she said, giving them more prominent leadership roles in the contemporary force.
“The Army is an easy business,” Cruz said she advises younger women under her leadership. “You will get from it what you put into it.”