JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md. – Personal accomplishment and a desire to inspire the next generation is what motivates Master Sgt. Maria R. Quitugua, the Air National Guard’s 2015 Outstanding Senior Noncommissioned Officer of the Year.
Quitugua is a security forces Airman from the Guam Air National Guard’s 254th Security Forces Squadron who was honored for her leadership and commitment to both her unit’s mission and her Airmen.
Quitugua was a special education teacher when she answered the call to serve in uniform.
“I wanted to do more,” said Quitugua. “I had always told myself that before I die, I wanted to wear my country’s uniform and ultimately be a part of something bigger than myself.
My friend and I called the Air National Guard recruiter. I told him I didn’t care what job it was, can I join today and get shipped off tomorrow.”
For her first four years as a Guardsman, Quitugua worked side-by-side with the active duty Air Force 36th Security Forces Squadron at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam. She started proving herself right away.
“My flight chief challenged me with jobs that would pull experiences out of me and make me a better Airman,” Quitugua said. “He saw potential in me to do more, or to do more challenging things as compared to the other Airmen.”
“We had guys who said, ‘Oh, you’re Guard and you don’t know what you’re doing.’ He wanted to get rid of that stigma, so he put me in those positions. He set our team motto: ‘One team, no seam,’ and we definitely proved that we knew as much as our active duty counterparts, or more.”
That experience has stuck with her throughout her career, and helped inspire her passion to mentor her own Airmen as a senior NCO.
“I just hope that anyone who puts this on is worthy of it,” Quitugua said, snapping her uniform shirt for emphasis. “I would want everyone who wears the uniform to show other people that it’s not about you; it’s not about what you want to do. The time you spend with a mentor or as a mentor is important. We don’t always make time for our subordinates to mentor them, to mold them, to guide them.”
“I hope that I’ll be able to pass that along to the Airmen I meet,” she said. “Pass on the want to do better, the urge to be part of something bigger and make it better.”
It was a 2009 deployment to Iraq that Quitugua says opened her eyes to the wider world around her, and the value of her service.
“I had just put on staff sergeant and all I was thinking was that I was excited to be away from home,” said Quitugua. “Being there opened my eyes to what we were doing there and what we as the United States were doing in Iraq. I was naïve to the fact that not everyone in that region just hates America and wants to kill us. But I worked alongside the Iraqi Air Force, and they’re just like me and you. So, I didn’t see how it fit in beforehand, but having been there, I see it now.”
When she needs to unwind, Quitugua laces up her shoes and hits the road for a run.
“Running is really my outlet,” she said.
“With a busy schedule, it’s how I decompress and just think. I make it a point to run, and fit it into my schedule. Two or three years ago, I ran so much that I started running just to run with friends,” she said. “I would go to every single 5K on Guam – and we have a lot. Sometimes there would be three in one day. I also got into running in the mornings recently. I used to tell myself that I would never wake up in the morning just to run, but now I try to get up earlier so I can do longer runs.”
And when it’s not the road or track calling her, Quitugua wants nothing more than to spend time with her family.
“Deployments have made it hard to do, but laying around the barbecue pit with family, joking, that’s what I enjoy a lot,” she said. “Just being around them and laughing. I didn’t grow up in a really close-knit family. It was me and my brother and my parents, and I didn’t learn to appreciate that until now. I want to make sure that my son gets that experience and to know that he’s proud of me – that’s all that matters. Hopefully he’ll see that there are other things besides just him. There’s helping other people, and being a part of something bigger.”
But Quitugua doesn’t leave her family behind when she puts on her uniform. Her husband, Michael, is also a security forces Airman in the 254th.
“We were both put on shift together, and started to be good friends,” Quitugua said. “After that, it was history. He’s always been someone who I’ve looked up to. I admire the way he can talk to his subordinates. He just does it and they want to follow him. I want to be like that.”
By: SSgt John Hillier
Master Sgt. Maria Victoria R. Quitugua, a security forces craftsman assigned to the 254th Security Forces Squadron, Guam Air National Guard, stands near a trail at Joint Base Andrews, Md., June 10, 2015. Quitugua is the 2015 Air National Guard Outstanding Senior NCO of the Year. (Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Marvin R. Preston/Released)
Master Sgt. Maria Victoria R. Quitugua, a security forces craftsman assigned to the 254th Security Forces Squadron, Guam Air National Guard, stands near a trail at Joint Base Andrews, Md., June 9, 2015. Quitugua is the 2015 Air National Guard Outstanding Senior NCO of the Year. (Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Marvin R. Preston/Released)
Master Sergeant Maria Victoria R. Quitugua, 2015 Air National Guard Outstanding Senior NCO of the Year. Quitugua is a security forces craftsman from the 254th Security Forces Squadron, Guam Air National Guard. (Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Marvin R. Preston/Released)