CPT Frances Silva, U.S. Army
I am a second generation Army Officer and am currently serving as a United States ARMY Optometrist (May 2011). My father, COL Melvin Silva (Ret) paved the way for our family as a US Army officer, who dedicated 30 plus years of his life to serving our country. My journey began when my parents left Puerto Rico to move to their first duty assignment at Fort Hood. They’re goal was to establish a stable foundation for themselves and their future family. My parents have expressed time and time again that the Army life has been an invaluable experience.
I was born in Fort Hood, Texas and grew up as a military child moving every 2-3 years. I attended 3 high schools and finally graduated from Samuel Clemens High School in Schertz, TX. My father retired in San Antonio, and my mother, sister, and I were elated to finally claim a “home”. This is where we lived for the remainder of our adulthood as we completed college and established long lasting friendships.
My parents are the most influential people in my life. As a single parent currently serving, I have gained insight and perspective about the sacrifices my parents made to ensure a firm foundation for our family. I appreciate and value the hours my father dedicated to the Army needs so as to provide for our family, while my mother unselfishly dedicated her life to us at home and beyond. I see very clearly now, that my sister and I wouldn't be where we are today without my parents.
I was very passionate about becoming a surgeon at a very young age, and was focused on medical school my entire life. Life had a very different plan for me. My son, Dylan, was born as I was completing my Master's degree in Biotechnology and Neuroscience, and I had to readjust my "game plan". I had to either choose him or my career. I always said that I want to be an example for my children to encourage them that "anything is possible". As a result, I searched a career field that would allow me to be a present mother to him, as well as satisfy my desire to serve in the medical field. This was the moment that Optometry chose me.
My graduate research studies were heavily concentrated towards the Vision Sciences, and I decided to apply to the Optometry school in Houston, accepting anything that would come my direction. I received my letter of acceptance, declined a lead researcher position in San Antonio, and immediately researched Optometry school financial aid resources and opportunities.
The Army Health Professions Scholarship program afforded me the opportunity to pursue Optometry. I was 1 of 8 students selected for the scholarship in the entire nation for my entering class, and the last to obtain the 4 year scholarship in the history of the program. I am currently completing my obligation with the intent of continuing beyond this requirement.
The military allowed me to provide a stable life for my son, while honoring myself in the process. This task was not easily accomplished without sacrifices, yet was extremely rewarding once I overcame all obstacles and challenges presented along the way.
I have experienced challenges and opportunities for growth as a direct commission officer during my 5 year career. I have learned that many people have difficulty accepting things that aren't the norm. For example, I am a young, Hispanic, educated, single mother who is a commissioned Officer. As a result, I have actually encountered individuals who sought to intimidate me or who attempted to challenge me for who I am, since it contradicted what I represented in their eyes. I have learned that this is more of reflection of their personal growth rather than the military organization.
There are unique challenges in the military, but I take them as opportunities for growth. I have overcome many personal obstacles and have chosen to use them as stepping stones to serve others I encounter in my life.
Most importantly, I must be cognizant that my son is carefully observing my every move, and I cannot afford to allow these challenges to consume me and hinder my role as his mother.
The military provides stability for my son and I in so many ways beyond the financial and medical resources. The military gives us the chance to start fresh every 2-3 years, and explore new places. How many people can say they have taken trip from coast to coast in their lifetime? My son and I recently experienced a cross country trip from Fort Jackson to Fort Lewis that will remain imprinted in our memories for the rest of our lives.
The military also gives Dylan the opportunity to explore different cultures and traditions; while establishing relationships with diverse individuals.
Additionally, the military allows me to go beyond Optometry. I am currently embarking on my assignment as the 166 Medical Team Detachment CDR at JBLM. I am looking forward to this unique opportunity that I wouldn't have as a civilian.
Last but not least, the military provides the opportunity for educational/academic advancement in both the military and civilian sectors. I am a prime example of the balance between taking advantage of these opportunities and serving the Army's needs in the process.
The military has played a tremendous role in my professional and personal growth, and has allowed me to set the example for Dylan, that "Anything is possible.”
If I could inspire someone to never give up on themselves, then I know that I have fulfilled my purpose. I genuinely enjoy seeing people succeed, and I love to motivate and encourage them during the process. There is nothing more gratifying to me than seeing individuals happily and effortlessly serving their purpose in life.
The leadership guidance I have so early in my career is to be yourself and do your best to embrace who you are at the core. It is vital to maintain your integrity, your standards, and beliefs while being open-minded to others you encounter. It is essential to find the balance of being flexible, while establishing healthy boundaries in both your professional and personal life. It is possible to be professional and have fun in the process; you simply need to know how to balance the two at the right time and place.
I am continuously and diligently working on these areas on a regular basis. Personal growth is a lifelong process that can be uncomfortable at times, yet rewarding upon reflection. We'll see where I stand once I complete my assignment at JBLM. I am certainly looking forward to the new lessons learned, and where I will be within the next 2-5 years. I am hopeful that everything will be as God intends it to be, and I will continue to do my best to provide a great future for my son while serving my country one assignment at a time.