First Army medical officer receives prestigious merit award

By Warren W. MarlowNovember 4, 2021

Maj. Kelly Guerra, First Army senior physician assistant, administers an influenza vaccination to Command Sgt. Maj. John McDwyer, First Army’s senior enlisted Soldier.
Maj. Kelly Guerra, First Army senior physician assistant, administers an influenza vaccination to Command Sgt. Maj. John McDwyer, First Army’s senior enlisted Soldier. (Photo Credit: First Army Public Affairs Office) VIEW ORIGINAL

A First Army senior physician assistant has been recognized with the Order of Military Medical Merit, an award given to those who achieve excellence in Army medicine. Maj. Kelly Ann Guerra received the Order during a ceremony Nov. 4 in First Army headquarters on Rock Island Arsenal, Ill. Bill Carter, First Army deputy surgeon and also a recipient of order, draped the medallion on Guerra during the ceremony.

"What an honor and privilege it is to present this to my teammate," Carter said. "She has been an enabler to First Army and its mission. It's well-deserved and thank you for letting me be a part of it.

Guerra said the recognition has left her “really humbled, excited, and amazed. I really believe I’m part of this prestigious society now.”

In her role with First Army, Guerra mentors physicians’ assistants, medical operations officers, and NCOs across two divisions and 10 brigades. In her career, Guerra has assisted 137 deploying Reserve Component units and has twice served on a panel which mentored Latina high school students on leadership. Additionally, she was a 2020 recipient of the Latina Style, Inc., Distinguished Military Service Award.

She deployed to three African countries in 2015, where she fulfilled a variety of missions. These included offering humanitarian medical assistance in Djibouti, providing medical training to Burundian forces, and serving at the U.S. Embassy in Kampala, Uganda, where she worked in the security cooperation office. All the while, she found time to be a volunteer Spanish teacher to U.S. service members.

According to Guerra’s Military Merit citation, while deployed to the Balkans, she “raised the standard of care in the Sarajevo and Tuzla Valleys through the teaching of primary care, gynecology and emergency medicine best practices. This accomplished trainer has helped build the next generation of Army physicians through graduate medical education and residency training programs. A stellar citizen, she also freely volunteers within her community and has supported numerous local, national and international events such as the Army 10-miler, the Marine Corps Marathon and the Armed Forces Wrestling Championships.”

The daughter of El Salvadoran immigrants, Guerra joined the Army in 2001, and after six years of service, was accepted into the Interservice Physician Assistant Studies Program as an officer candidate. She­­­­­­­ earned a bachelor’s in biology from the University of California-Irvine and master’s of physician assistant studies from the University of Nebraska.

She credits her parents with giving her the drive that has sustained her throughout life.

“The opportunities I have had are because they came to this country,” she said. “They are super hard-working. They’ve always instilled a very high work ethic. Ever since I was little I knew I wanted to help people. That has always fueled my passion.”

Her time at First Army has enabled her to continue that journey.

“Being at the three-star command…and being able to work with such seasoned leaders, you get to learn so much from everyone,” Guerra said. “I am really grateful to First Army and the opportunity to grow as an officer and a leader.”

There are times when the path seems surreal to her. “I came in as an E-1 and I sometimes forget I’m a field grade officer. I’m like, ‘Wow, I was just Pvt. Snuffy the other day.’”

Having hit her 20-year mark, Guerra is mulling retiring from the Army to take a civilian position, though she has not shut the door on staying in and continuing to work up the ranks. In any event, she will keep the drive, passion, and work ethic that has defined her stellar career.