I love food…and food culture. I discovered this while on a choir trip to China when I was just fourteen years old. As humans, so much of our cultural identity is built around cooking and food traditions - the pleasures, great flavors and social experiences food adds to our lives. You may ask: what does that have to do with being in the military? Well, that is where it all started. Growing up in a big family, as the 2nd oldest of 8 to be exact, I started experimenting with cooking by making large family dinners. I grew to love food and cooking so much that I pursued a degree in Culinary Arts, and then continued studying Culinary Nutrition. When I came to the next junction, I chose the path to become a Registered Dietitian with a goal of dispelling the myth that nutritious foods do not taste good.
Six years ago, I never would have pictured myself serving in the U.S. Military. If you would have asked me back in college where I saw myself in 5 or 10 years, it probably would have been in catering, restaurants, or as a personal chef. I was kind of lost; I didn’t really know what my next step would be. I toyed around with the idea of continuing my education, but the thought of more schooling seemed pretty overwhelming. Then, in late 2010, my aunt Judy, with whom I was very close, lost her two-year battle with cancer at the age of 34. As a teacher for a women’s college preparatory academy (and a doctoral candidate herself), she was a huge advocate for promoting higher education among young women and touched the lives of so many of her students. She once told me, “Your education is the one thing no one can ever take away from you,” a message shared with her by my great-grandmother, Gigi. At that moment, I knew I needed to pursue my master’s degree. About a month later, after completing my undergraduate studies, I was back at my college campus for an event where a U.S. Army Healthcare Recruiter was presenting on the U.S. Military-Baylor Graduate Program in Nutrition.
What better way to honor my aunt and pursue a graduate degree than by serving my country?
I am now a Registered Dietitian (65C) in the U.S. Army Medical Specialist Corps. In my current position, I am the Chief of Outpatient & Community Nutrition Services where I encourage adopting eating and lifestyle behaviors that promote performance optimization and improve readiness among the military population. The role food plays in performance optimization is fascinating. I regularly apply these concepts, not only with my patients and the units I work with, but also to my own endurance training.
Each year I have made a goal to challenge myself with a new physical feat. Prior to joining the military, running more than 2 miles seemed rather daunting. A fellow military dietitian encouraged me to start running with her to improve my APFT run time. Within 6 months, I completed my first 10 mile race followed quickly by my first Olympic Triathlon just a couple of months later. I went on to compete in the Army 10 miler, several half marathons, a slew of Sprint and Olympic Triathlons, an Ironman 70.3, and most recently completed my first trail marathon…all within the past 4 ½ years. I enjoy endurance sports because they force people to push beyond their pre-conceived physical and psychological limits.
My story is one about seizing opportunities, no matter how or when they are presented, and continuously setting goals and working hard to achieve whatever goals you set for yourself. This journey has definitely been a lesson in being flexible because you never know where life will take you. I’m very fortunate to be in the U.S. Army, and to have the opportunity to honor and serve others. Assisting Soldiers with improving their performance on a PT test, or achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight after struggling to make tape, or an entire unit with preventing heat casualties during their NTC rotation, or a team complete the Bataan Memorial Death March is my definition of success. I serve those that serve.