WASHINGTON -- National Hispanic Heritage Month is observed from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, during which the U.S. Army commemorates the longstanding contributions that Hispanics have made toward building and defending our nation.
Sgt. Aimee Fry, a unit supply specialist and squad leader with the 12th Aviation Battalion, the U.S. Army Aviation Brigade, U.S. Army Military District of Washington, is a second-generation American born to Mexican parents.
Her grandparents originally came to the U.S. from Mexico in the 1960s. They settled in Chicago and worked in factories to support their family.
Fry, the second oldest of three daughters born to Sergio Martinez and JoAnn Villa, was raised in El Paso, Texas, in a predominantly Mexican community.
"The Mexican culture was very rich there," said Fry. "I didn't even realize I was a minority growing up with my tight-knit family in that community. It wasn't something that we ever had to think about."
The now mother of four left high school at 16 years old.
"I dropped out to help my older sister care for her son," said Fry. "She would always tell me that I needed to make sure I did something with myself."
Fry earned her GED and then enlisted in the Army in March 2007 at 18 years old.
"I just woke up one day and decided I wanted to join the Army," she said. "El Paso is a beautiful city, but if you don't leave then you will get stuck. I knew I had to get out."
When Fry expressed interest to enlist in the Army, her decision conflicted with her families' traditional ideals of an appropriate career choice for a female.
"We were raised that women were to be housewives," said Fry. "My family didn't understand how I was going to be able to be a Soldier and become a wife and mother. They thought I was taking on too much."
Fry recalls experiencing a culture shock after arriving to Basic Combat Training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina.
"It was very difficult for me when I went to basic training," Fry said. "It wasn't the physical demands that I struggled with. I had a hard time adjusting to people with different backgrounds and experiences."
She was the only Hispanic trainee in her platoon and for the first time in her life she felt out of place, she recalled.
"At that time I had a very heavy accent," Fry said. "I would speak and people couldn't tell I was speaking English and I wasn't able to understand the other accents either. It made it very difficult to relate to anyone."
Fry soon found support and motivation from an unlikely source.
"My senior drill sergeant was Mexican and from Odessa, Texas, which is not far from El Paso," Fry explained. "He pushed me to try my hardest and not to give up. He would say 'They are waiting for you to mess up.' I felt pressure from him, but it was good pressure."
His support left a lasting impression on her and still serves as motivation.
"I still think about that when I work," said Fry. "I work hard and let my product speak for itself and when they see my name attached to it, they see that I know what I am doing."
In November 2011, three months after giving birth to her third daughter, Fry deployed to Afghanistan with the 1st Armored Division as the unit's only supply noncommissioned officer. To her surprise, a month after arriving in Afghanistan she was attached to a line troop to serve on their Female Engagement Team. FET is a program comprised of female Soldiers to develop trust-based and enduring relationships with the Afghan women encountered on patrols.
"This came as a big shock to me," said Fry. "I was scared because I had just given birth and I didn't know how well I could keep up."
Serving as part of this team was a difficult but worthwhile experience, explained Fry.
"I noticed that the women were very receptive to me," said Fry. "The little girls were always shocked to see a female Soldier. I hope I showed them that [women] can do just as much as men."
Since arriving at Fort Belvoir in April 2013, Fry has participated in a variety of events she never thought she would experience.
"I am a high school dropout and because of the Army I have been afforded all of these great opportunities," said Fry. "Since being here I have participated in the inauguration, visited the White House and recently attended the presidential address."
She has also left a lasting impression on her Soldiers and leaders in her unit.
"She is an amazing NCO," said Lisa Santana, supply specialist with the 12th Aviation Battalion. "Since I have been here I have done and learned so much. I know it's all because of her and her leadership. She really knows how to take care of Soldiers."
"Sgt. Fry is an outstanding leader," said Sgt. 1st Class Derrick White, supply noncomissioned officer in charge with the 12th Aviation Battalion. "She has really stepped into her role as an NCO, mentoring and developing the Soldiers below her. She is sure to be an excellent senior NCO, hopefully sergeant major, one day."
Fry, who is currently taking college courses in supply chain management, is slated to have a permanent change of station to Kuwait. She plans to continue to develop as an NCO so she can one day become the first female sergeant major of the Army.
"Being raised in the Mexican culture has taught me to work hard and be proud of who you are," Fry said with a smile. "It's like in that movie Selena. As a Mexican American you have to be more Mexican than the Mexicans and more American than the Americans all at the same time."