EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. (USASOC News Service, April 2, 2015) -- "Master your trade and never, never, never quit! Enough motivation, persistence and willpower will get you through everything," is the advice 1st Sgt. Sandrea Cruz gives to those seeking her guidance.

Cruz serves as the first sergeant of the 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne), Group Support Battalion's Sustainment and Distribution Company. 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. Born on Fort Stewart, Ga., and raised in a military family, she fully understands the stress service in the Army places on the spouse and children of a soldier. Her father, a Green Beret who served in both the 7th and 3rd Special Forces Groups, drives her to excel in her daily duties.

"My father is the epitome of what a soldier truly represents, both on and off duty. Even though he has since retired, he is one of the most disciplined and intelligent people I know," says Cruz about her father, who remains her most trusted mentor and hero. "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."

"I am blessed to have my father there for me all my life; he has taught me so much. I am grateful for his guidance and his mentorship," continued Cruz. "His performance and accomplishments in the military leave me humbled as I am reminded that persistence and hard work pays."

Her most challenging assignment was her second duty assignment in Camp Hialeah, Pusan, Korea with the 4th Quartermaster Detachment (Airborne). As a newly promoted sergeant with a more than two years in the Army, Cruz served as the company supply sergeant and the unit's armorer, ammunition manager and assisted in the company's orderly room. 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 and what Cruz credits for developing her into the leader she is today.

She remembers Sgt. 1st Class Celia Gonzalez as a significant influence in her early career. Gonzalez, a parachute rigger by trade and the first Hispanic female Golden Knight, was Cruz' platoon sergeant while stationed in Korea. Though 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," said Cruz. "This motivated me to not only go to airborne school, but eventually become a jumpmaster myself, which I never planned to do."

Selected in late 2014 to lead soldiers as a first sergeant in the 7th SFG (A), Cruz is one of two women in the group serving as the senior NCO in a company, with another female leading troops in the GSB's headquarters element. She routinely performs duties as a jump master, working hard to instill confidence into soldiers anxious about the inherent dangers of airborne operations. Her husband also serves in the Army as a Green Beret. As a Special Forces soldier in 7th SFG (A), he leads and trains Special Forces soldiers, preparing them for deployments to austere locations far away from logistics lines.

More than 13 years has passed since Cruz enlisted, and she has been a first-hand witness to the numerous cultural changes the Army has undergone. Women, she says, have a lot more opportunities in the military than when she joined. Women are now serving in assignments previously closed to them, she continued, giving them more prominent leadership roles in the contemporary force.

"The Army is an easy business," Cruz advises younger women under her leadership. "You will get from it what you put into it."