First Hispanic woman grad credits academy for her success

  • Published
  • By Rudi Williams
  • American Forces Press Service
Not only was Linda Garcia Cubero the first Hispanic woman to graduate the Air Force Academy, she was the only Hispanic woman to graduate from any of the nation's service academies in 1980, when the first classes with women graduated.

President Gerald R. Ford signed legislation Oct. 7, 1975, allowing women to enter the nation's military academies. Women entered the Air Force Academy for the first time June 28, 1976. The first class with women graduated in May 1980.

A graduate of Chicopee Comprehensive High School in Chicopee, Mass., Ms. Cubero was the first woman in that state to receive an appointment to any military academy.

Ms. Cubero said she decided to pursue an education at the academy to follow her father's footsteps into the Air Force as a commissioned officer. She also wanted to travel and see the world.

"I wanted to get a really good education, and the opportunities at the service academies were just too good to pass up," said Ms. Cubero, who graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in political science and earned her free-fall parachute wings.

She spent seven years in the Air Force serving as a command briefer to a four-star general and on national-level task forces at the Pentagon. As a liaison to the White House, Ms. Cubero supervised the development of a U.S. commemorative postage stamp honoring Hispanics in the defense of the nation. The stamp was designed by the 10 surviving Hispanic Medal of Honor recipients and unveiled by President Ronald Reagan at the White House in 1984.

The former Air Force captain said she spent four years at the Pentagon with the Defense Intelligence Agency and three years at the Tactical Air Command at Langley Air Force Base, Va. She resigned her commission after marrying a civilian and starting a family, and she enrolled in a graduate-degree program.

Ms. Cubero said her first year at the academy "was pretty rough."

"I wasn't used to being yelled at and being braced up against the wall and told to tuck your chin in and do push-ups and sit-ups," she said. "The academic environment didn't bother me; the physical aspect didn't bother me, but the mental and emotional challenge was tough. The intent is to strip you down as individuals and form you into first a follower and then learn how to be a leader and how to be a part of a team. They do a very good job of that."

But the transition is tough for an 18-year-old who has never been away from home, she said.

"Emotionally and mentally, it was quite a challenge, but one that I think created a foundation for my success today," said Ms. Cubero, now a client director at Hewlett-Packard. She is also on the board of directors of the Girl Scouts’ Tejas Council.

In 1998, Ms. Cubero was inducted into the National Hispanic Engineering Hall of Fame. In 2002, Hispanic Business magazine named her as one of the "100 Most Influential Hispanics" in the United States. She has been featured in several magazines and is a frequent keynote speaker.

She said the four years at the academy, the discipline, the leadership, the skills she learned and the academic background all laid a foundation for her successes in life.

"The self-confidence I have today was built there," Ms. Cubero said. "It had a tremendous (effect) on my career and my success … in the Air Force and in the corporate environment."

Her advice to young Hispanic women who are contemplating attending a military academy is to "make sure it's something you really want; make sure it's for you. If it's not for you, you will not survive. You'll be very unhappy."

Ms. Cubero said those who are given an opportunity to attend an academy should give back as they grow and learn.

"Make sure you share those learnings with others," she said.

When she spoke at the National Latina Symposium honoring Hispanic women military academy graduates in early September, Ms. Cubero told the gathering that her lifelong motto is, "You tell me I can't, and I'll show you I will."

While at the academy, she said she learned the value of an education is not just from books or classrooms, but also from experiences and relationships.

"I learned that the only barriers in your way are those you create yourself," Ms. Cubero said. "I learned the value of true friendship and what it means to serve others before self."

She said she also learned about an honor code that says, "We will not lie, cheat or steal, nor tolerate among us anyone who does."

"And I learned that your integrity, your word, is something that no one can ever take away," Ms. Cubero said. "I learned that serving your country is not just about putting on a uniform every day; it's about duty, pride, honor, character and about being part of a team."

Since graduating from the academy, Ms. Cubero said she learned the definition of success "isn't in the size of your paycheck, but in the opportunities you create for others and in the differences you can make.

"I've also learned that when they said, 'Just being an academy grad will open up doors for you,' they really meant it -- it's true," Ms. Cubero said.

She gave her key ingredients necessary for success in today's challenging times:

-- Develop relationships and cultivate networks: "You can't survive on your skills alone. Good leaders don't have to have all the right answers -- they just need to know where to go to get them," she said.

-- Practice lifelong learning: "Seek to understand more than just your job. Look for ways to improve things around you."

-- Develop business acumen and judgment: "Ask questions. Seek a mentor. Continue to learn and grow and be generous with what you learn. Don't be afraid to fail or you will never succeed."

-- Develop leadership competencies: "Whether it's government, military, corporate America or an academic institution, every organization needs good leaders, at all levels."

-- Achieve personal clarity: "Be curious about yourself. Understand what brings you fully alive, what matters most to you, what motivates you, and design your life around those things. The better you take care of yourself, the more you can be there for others."