Although it has never been her goal, Army Maj. Terri Rae Lopez-Homestead has made a habit of being first.

As a Mexican immigrant, she was the first member of her family to attend and graduate college. She was the first U.S. Army Reserve Officers Training Corps graduate commissioned at her college.

Recently, she has assumed a role never before filled by a female Soldier. In the nearly 15-year history of the 49th Missile Defense Battalion of the Alaska National Guard, Homestead is the first woman to serve as a tactical missile defense crew director in the Fire Direction Center at Fort Greely, Alaska.

"It's an honor," said Homestead. "I had no idea that I was the first. I'm just trying to learn and do the best I can.

"We're all performing the same mission," she continued. "I don't think being a female makes too much of a difference. These positions should be sought after."

The mission of the 49th MDB is to defend the United States from intercontinental ballistic missile attacks with ground-based interceptors. Homestead graduated from the rigorous Ground-based Midcourse Defense qualification course in Colorado Springs in December 2017 and reported to Fort Greely shortly thereafter.

"It's been a steep learning curve," said Homestead. "But I came in and hit the ground running. I worked with both the morning and evening crews, which was beneficial because I got to learn from the other crew directors."

The 49th Missile Defense Battalion conducts the tactical piece of the GMD mission for U.S. Northern Command as part of the 100th Missile Defense Brigade. The crew director has close communication with higher headquarters and is entirely responsible for the actions of the crew of five.

"Being a director is a tough job, but being a director who has never served on crew is tough as it gets," said Capt. Joseph Radke, who is part of Homestead's crew. "Major Homestead has been very humble and willing to listen to everyone who has wanted to give her advice, and that is an amazing attribute for a leader to have."

Homestead and her family moved to San Diego from Mexico when she was a child in 1993. There, she had to learn English, as Spanish was her native language. She was accepted to Gardner-Webb University in Boiling Springs, North Carolina, on a track-and-field scholarship for pole vaulting, making her the first member of her family to attend college.

Her military career began in 2002 when she enlisted in the U.S. Army Reserve as a transportation management coordinator. She became the first officer commissioned through the Gardner-Webb ROTC program in 2007 and joined the North Carolina National Guard as a second lieutenant in the medical services corps branch.

Homestead has served in many roles within the National Guard, meeting her future husband - a resident and native of Alaska - while working in the National Guard Bureau's State Partnership Program in Europe. She joined the Alaska National Guard and worked in Anchorage as the officer strength manager thereafter.

When she was assigned to the 49th at Fort Greely, she only had basic knowledge of the unit's mission. Homestead said the biggest challenge of her job is learning to listen to multiple people talking to her at the same time, while simultaneously relaying that information to higher headquarters.

"It's an acquired skill," she said. "You have four people updating you and you have to interpret that and make split-second decisions."

Homestead said she learns something new every day about her mission and the Soldiers on her crew, noting that she tries to impart the significance of their mission to them every day.

"It reinvigorates my motivation every day to know that there are 10 people on crew (two crews of five Soldiers, one at Fort Greely and one at Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado) and this responsibility lies on us," said Homestead. "When we come in here and train, we talk about it and stress the importance of it.

"If (an ICBM was launched at the United States) today, we are the people who are going to be able to defend America."

While she is the first woman to serve as tactical crew director, Homestead said she hopes there will be others.

"I would encourage more female Soldiers to do it," said Homestead. "We are breaking down so many barriers in our society, I think it is important to stand out and go above and beyond. Seek out different opportunities that are beyond your pay grade."