Women's History Month: Women in USFA

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The Military Connection

The fire service is often referred to as a quasi-military organization. The number of firefighters who have a military background is significant. That maxim holds true at USFA as well. So, what do these former soldiers, sailors, and airmen see as the similarities between the military environment and the fire service? And what impact has their experience in the uniformed services had on their current job performance? The following women are just a few of the former military personnel now serving with USFA.

Elsie Davis

Elsie Davis began her career in the Army shortly after high school. She took classes to develop professional administrative skills and in 1970 she entered the Women’s Army Corps as an Administrative Specialist - stenographer. Her 21 year military career took her around the country and across Europe before she retired with the rank of Sergeant First Class. She made the transition from the military to FEMA in 1991 and came to the USFA in the Spring of 1999. She is currently a Management Analyst with the Office of the Deputy Fire Administrator in Emmitsburg. Her years in a variety of administrative positions with the Army prepared her for whatever special assignments come her way. As for the similarities between the military and the fire service, she notes the emphasis on health and physical fitness � requirements for being a successful firefighter or effective soldier.

Marie Martinez

A ROTC scholarship took Marie Martinez from Montana, to college in Virginia, to 4 years active duty with the Navy, and ports-of-call in South and Central America. She served as a Surface Warfare Officer with responsibility for a $1 billion vessel and the supervision of 17 sailors. Upon completion of her initial tour of duty, she looked for a job and location that would allow her to continue her academic studies. That search brought her to the USFA and nearby Hood College in Frederick, MD. Ms. Martinez is a graduate student in biomedical science with plans to pursue a PhD. She is currently a Fire Program Specialist with the National Fire Programs Division (NFP) where, in her own words, she is the "Swiss Army Knife" of the Emergency Response Support Branch. She pitches in where needed and has been involved in diverse projects. A standing responsibility is to provide GIS support for the response activities of the branch. The projects that most relate to her academic background have involved pandemic planning, which has been a high profile concern in recent years. During her 4-year tenure at USFA she has been struck by how dissimilar the military and the fire service are. The centralized control and regulation of the Navy are significantly different from the independent operation of the nation’s 30,000+ fire departments. What she has gained from working at USFA is a better understanding of the functions and interaction of state and local governments. Ms. Martinez is a Lieutenant in the Naval Reserves and is eligible for mobilization and deployment.

Teresa Neal

After earning her associate’s degree at a hometown community college, Teresa Neal was up for "something I�d never experienced before." Armed with sage advice from her father, a Marine, and her strong aptitude test scores, she landed a slot as a Russian linguist with Army Military Intelligence. The adventure came in the mid-90s when she was assigned to a British intelligence unit in Sarajevo at the end of the Bosnian war. As part of a NATO contingent she had a front row seat for viewing the implementation of the Dayton Accords, the peace agreement that put an end to the 3 year conflict. After 7 years, Specialist Neal left the military to raise a family. She joined USFA early in 2003 just as the Department of Homeland Security was being stood up. She is currently a Fire Program Specialist with the NFP’s Prevention and Information Branch. The lesson that most translates from the military to her current job is the importance of teamwork. Everyone’s contribution, however small, is needed for mission success. She believes that the fire service and the armed forces share two fundamental core values: 1) the camaraderie resulting from a commitment to your fellow firefighters/soldiers and 2) the duty to serve the greater good beyond oneself.

Lisa Makar

Joining the Air Force ROTC while in high school was the start for Lisa Makar. Upon graduation she enlisted, trained, and was assigned to Security Police at Pope Air Force Base in North Carolina. At the end of her 4-year enlistment, Ms. Makar choose to go the civilian route as she was now a mother with a young child and needed a more "normal" work schedule. As a Department of the Army civilian she worked at military bases in Germany and Louisiana. With time, she looked for an assignment closer to her home and family in Pennsylvania. She came to the USFA in 1999 and early on she enrolled in the National Fire Academy’s course in Fire Service Communications to gain an understanding of the new population she would be working for and with. She finds that the military qualities of discipline and teamwork have served her well throughout her career. In addition, the parallels between the emergency and military services are obvious to her. There is a strong sense of family and fellowship that comes from training, living, eating, and working together in environments where you have to be able to trust and rely upon the man or woman serving next to you. The former Sergeant is currently the Secretary for the Curriculum and Instruction Branch of the National Fire Academy.

While there may be many differences, a discussion of either the fire service or the armed forces will elicit similar references to duty, camaraderie, dedication, and selflessness. These same virtues are evident among the women of the USFA and their daily contributions ensure that our citizens and first responders receive only our best.