When the time came to choose in what to specialize in the Navy, Evelyn Ospina, a self-styled “girlie girl,” zeroed in on a job dominated by men.
She was a cryptologic technician aboard the USS Saipan, where she learned to detect missiles, planes, helicopters and vehicles that posed threats, and determine how best to respond to them.
She signed up for service just days after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, when she was a teenager, because she felt her country needed her, she said.
In 2003, her ship was the first to take troops to Iraq.
“It was nerve-racking, but it was something that was expected,” Ospina, 31, told Fox News Latino. “It didn’t really hit home until we got overseas. We saw the oil fires, the first torpedoes. It became a reality.”
On Monday, Ospina will be attending the Veterans Day Parade in New York City. Its focus this year – it will honor women in the military – is particularly important to Ospina.
“It’s so moving to see so much attention being given to women in the military. Not only do we care and protect our children and our home, but we fight to protect everyone else as well,” said Ospina.
“It's an honor to be among the many women who have served, who currently serve and who will serve in the future."
Ospina conceded that her mother had worried about her joining the Navy and going to war. She wanted her daughter to get a college education, and embark on a career.
Ospina herself had concerns when she was sent overseas.
“You’re afraid because you don’t know if you’ll make it back home,” she said. “You get homesick. But you hear about the prayer services back home, and you think about the people you’re affecting, and you get through it.”
She returned home safe, spending several years aboard the ship, where she was one of 110 women in a crew of 1,000 people.
Once she returned to civilian life, she worked as a make-up artist then made a career of what had been a hobby— making desserts and serving them in catered affairs.
Ospina, who is the single mother of a three month daughter, Isabella, has catered many veteran events, and sells custom-made sweets through her Internet-based business, Sugar Fairy NYC.
She hopes she can be an inspiration to other young women to join the military and pursue their dreams, she said.
“I hope that being a single mom who has my own business shows people that you can do it on your own,” she said.
Elizabeth Llorente can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on https://twitter.com/Liz_Llorente