CAMP ZAMA, Japan – As a child, Antonella Escalante was not allowed to leave her home after being escorted from school by her family.
At the time, violence, drug use and child trafficking were widespread in her hometown of Jarabacoa, located in the center of the Dominican Republic.
“My family was very protective,” she recalled. “That’s the reason why I try to put myself out there for others, because I want a positive, strong community.”
Escalante, now a specialist assigned to U.S. Army Medical Department Activity–Japan, said she is thankful for her family instilling the values in her that she tries to live by in her current job as a lab technician.
The lab, which is inside the BG Sams U.S. Army Health Clinic, regularly handles about 150 tests per day that monitor COVID-19 and an array of other conditions found in urinalysis and blood work.
“I like my job; I can have an impact on patients,” the 24-year-old Soldier said. “If I don’t do my job, then people cannot get diagnosed. And I want to take care of people.”
Outside of her lab coat, Escalante, a geographic bachelorette, serves as her unit’s representative for the Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers program. She also volunteers at Army Community Service to assist with administrative data and other duties.
“I enjoy giving to people,” she said. “I don’t just want to take; I want to give.”
Her close-knit family showed her how to do that. She grew up in a humble, one-bedroom home with five other family members. They had to fit several beds in a room to sleep and hang curtains between them for a semblance of privacy. Her mother, who was only 16 years old when Escalante was born, often worked while her grandparents and aunts helped care for her.
Despite their situation, her family would always happily provide food to less fortunate neighbors who sometimes knocked on their door in need, she said.
“My family raised me well with good values, and one of the values is that if somebody does something nice for you, make sure you pay it forward at least three times,” she said.
In 2014, she was able to move to the U.S. with some of her family members in hopes of better opportunities.
Escalante went on to be the first in her family to attend college and earned an associate’s degree in forensic science and a bachelor’s degree in health science. She was recently accepted to pursue a master’s degree in health administration at the University of North Carolina, where she aims to join its ROTC program and become an officer.
She is also a linguist who can speak four languages and is learning a fifth one, she said.
The support she and her family received in America made her feel she had a debt to pay. So, in 2019, she decided to join the Army.
“I was very grateful for the opportunity to move to a country where, if you want to do whatever you want to do in life, you can achieve that as long as you work hard,” she said. “I’m also grateful for the safety that my family members have every day, and I know that those sacrifices don’t come for free.”
Staff Sgt. Domonic Pennington, the section leader for several ancillary departments at the clinic, has worked with Escalante since she came to Japan about a year ago.
“Ever since her arrival, she has had a go-getter mentality,” he said. “She continuously asks questions, ‘What can I do for you? How can I improve my career as well as enhance yours?’ She challenges her leadership. She just wants more.”
Escalante recently won her unit’s Soldier of the Quarter award and Pennington believes she could win at the U.S. Army Japan level.
After learning how to be thrifty in her youth, Escalante has also turned into a budding finance guru. She said she saves more than a quarter of her paycheck, sends money back to her grandparents in the Dominican Republic, and helps other Soldiers with their own budgets.
“What she brings to our team is her communication skills, her financial skills as well as her positive emotions,” Pennington said. “I see high potential in her being a noncommissioned officer as well as a commissioned officer in the U.S. Army.”
While her unit and family continue to motivate her, Escalante said she also receives inspiration whenever she sees a female Soldier in a leadership role.
Women have served in the Army since 1775. Today, women make up 16% of the service and can serve in all career fields, according to the Army Equity and Inclusion Agency.
Last year, Gen. Laura Richardson became the second Army woman to achieve the rank of four-star general and second woman to lead a combatant command when she was sworn in to lead U.S. Southern Command.
“It makes me feel proud,” Escalante said of female leaders. “It makes me feel strong and that I can conquer the world. It’s wonderful to see women progressing.”