By Army Sgt. 1st Class Malcolm McClendon, Texas Military Forces DoD News Features, Defense Media Activity
AUSTIN, Texas, December 3, 2015 — Having grown up in a family full of service members, Pvt. Angeline Sanchez knew how to take charge and lead fellow recruits through the 2nd Regiment, Texas State Guard’s Regional Basic Orientation Training.
Sanchez did so well she earned top honors in her class, which graduated in a ceremony held here recently.
Sanchez became familiar with the military long before she ever joined it. Growing up around her U.S. Army father, stepfather, mother and U.S. Marine Corps grandfather had a profound impact on her life.
“My stepfather was a drill sergeant and when he’d come home wearing that big round brown hat, I knew that was something I wanted to do,” Sanchez said. “I loved the structure and the uniform, so my goal ever since was to join the military and serve.”
Even before she was old enough to join, Sanchez began researching military jobs and the minimum placement scores needed for each. Then, when her older brother joined the U.S. Army she knew she had found her calling.
“My brother joined as a medic and when he was home he’d show me his gear, which I thought was really cool,” Sanchez said. “When he came back from deployment he showed me pictures and told me stories about how he helped people and fellow soldiers in Iraq as a combat medic, and I knew then that’s what I wanted to do.”
When she turned 18, Sanchez took the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test, and enlisted into the active-duty U.S. Army and left for basic training on Valentine’s Day 2012.
“I remember the six-hour ride to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, feeling excited and saying to myself, ‘I made it. I made it.’” Sanchez said. “When we finally arrived at the base, my heart was pumping. Then the drill sergeant got on the bus and began ordering us to get our stuff and get off. It was exciting.”
Sanchez, along with other new arrivals, was placed in the reception platoon while they waited for the next training cycle to begin. There, she said she did not take any time off and soon found herself being put in charge of her barracks mates and marching the platoon.
“We were marching to breakfast chow one morning, and it was my goal that day to lose my voice calling cadence,” Sanchez said. “I was in the back of the formation when the drill sergeant stopped everyone and called me to the front of the platoon and said, ‘This soldier has a voice ten times bigger than her body.’ From that point on, I was known as 'Mighty Mouse.'”
Her time at Fort Sill would be short-lived, however. Childhood asthma was all but gone, but it resurfaced, and it was brought to the drill sergeants’ attention.
“One night, they called me down to report to the drill sergeant that was on duty,” Sanchez said. “He looked right at me and said, ‘Private Sanchez, you can’t stay here, because of your asthma.’ Right then, I broke down crying.”
Sanchez said she was devastated and returned to Texas with no plan, since the only thing she had ever wanted to do was to become a soldier.
“I didn’t have a backup plan. My plan was to do twenty-plus [years] in the Army,” Sanchez continued. “I fell in and out of jobs. I was too distracted. I didn’t have the drive for anything.”
Then, one day while picking up her partner at Camp Mabry in Austin, Sanchez spotted what she thought was a uniform violation on a soldier crossing the street. She looked over at her partner and asked why the soldier was wearing a Texas flag on his sleeve.
“She told me that he was in the Texas State Guard,” Sanchez said. “I immediately began researching what that meant. We went to lunch and I couldn’t put my phone down. I had multiple screens open, reading what they were about.”
Sanchez began calling numbers on the website to get more information on joining until she reached Army Staff Sgt. John Gately, the noncommissioned officer in charge of the communications section for the Texas State Guard.
“I talked to her on the phone and explained that the State Guard is designed to help the citizens of Texas in times of need, whether it’s a man-made or natural disaster,” Gately said. “I also told her that we are an all-volunteer force that specializes in shelter operations, search and rescue, medical assistance and the manning of points-of-distribution when called on by the governor during those emergencies.”
Since the Texas State Guard’s mission is in Texas and requires no overseas deployment, Sanchez discovered that her asthma would not be a problem and that she could once more have the opportunity to put on the uniform and serve. She signed up and began preliminarily working with her unit while waiting for the next RBOT class to begin.
Another Chance to Lead
At RBOT, Sanchez said she quickly took charge.
“My time at the reception platoon taught me to step up when they needed someone to volunteer,” Sanchez said. “I made it to formations before time, got up a little early and got my squad up and ready for the day, and of course, called cadence every chance I got.”
Sanchez’ performance was again noticed by instructors.
“She was very motivated, took ownership and had a drive-forward attitude,” said Staff Sgt. Jason Rogers, an instructor with the 2nd Regiment’s RBOT. “She was engaged with everyone else’s efforts in the training, cheering them on and pushing them to make it through.”
By training’s end, the instructors had a group discussion and overwhelmingly voted Sanchez as the honor graduate for the class. And in a ceremony full of friends and family, she was asked to stand and be recognized.
“It was amazing. My mother came in from out of town to see me,” Sanchez said. “She was there with me when I was going through my depression for not being able to complete Army basic training. I had never graduated from anything before, so when she came to see me here she had tears in her eyes. And then to find out I was honor graduate … it topped it all and made her proud.”
Sanchez is now assigned to the 1st Battalion, 1st Regiment in San Antonio and looks forward to her career in the Texas State Guard.
“I feel so much better now. This is the happiest I’ve ever felt in my life,” Sanchez said. “When I first went to basic at Fort Sill, I had that awesome feeling you get when you put on your uniform and take charge. And now, in the State Guard, I have it again.