MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- A well-known Marine reservist, who works in a civilian capacity aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, was awarded a National Image Award in Los Angeles last week.
Since 1971, National Image, a nonprofit organization, advocated for Hispanics and helped provide opportunities for leadership development through conferences and other means.
Every year the group honors two service members from each branch of service, and this year Sgt. Maj. Yolanda Mayo, the sergeant major of Marine Air Control Squadron 24, was honored for her dedication and support to Hispanics and to community service.
Mayo works aboard MCB Camp Lejeune as the deputy operations officer for Marine Corps Community Services.
Mayo has a strong identity and personality. Sgt. Maj. Ernest Hoopii, the sergeant major of Marine Corps Installations East-MCB Camp Lejeune described her as positive, cheerful, enthusiastic, well intentioned and sincere.
Those traits have taken her far in her career, but the mother of two has not forgotten her culture or her family.
When her daughter was 15 she planned her daughter’s Quiceanera, a rite of passage for Hispanic girls similar to a sweet sixteen. While the traditions associated with the celebration vary between countries and religions they all include a large formal celebration that brings friends and family together to celebrate the occasion.
“Around here nobody heard of it before,” said Mayo. “It was really cool to be able to share my heritage.”
Mayo is Mexican and Irish. She was raised in Michigan and feels she was never treated differently because of her race.
“My last name was Sanchez,” she said. “(My sisters and I) were the only ones but it was okay. We grew up around a lot of different cultures.”
Her family came to the United States two generations ago when her grandmother, a young migrant worker, immigrated to the country with her children to improve her family’s fortunes.
Mayo wishes her grandmother was able to see her when she became a sergeant major. While her grandmother was not able to see Mayo where she is today she saw the path Mayo was taking.
Mayo made her mark throughout the base with her bright, enthusiastic personality, and her work as the host of Happenings, an MCCS online program detailing events and programs aboard the installation.
“She is a homerun hitter from either side of the plate - both as a remarkably talented and accomplished civilian employee, and equally impressive as Sgt. Maj. Yolanda Mayo, United States Marine Corps Reserve,” said John Sollis, the assistant chief of staff with MCCS. “To her everlasting great credit, she never confuses one role for the other. In that sense, she’s absolutely bicultural, bilingual and ambidextrous.”
The Kawkawlin, Mich., native worked as a hygiene equipment operator, an administration clerk, protocol non-commissioned officer and a public affairs chief through her Marine Corps career. She deployed in support of Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm, and in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“I’ve had a lot of fun,” said Mayo. “I worked with great people in every field I worked in. I have been to many places, done a lot of things and met numerous great people along the way.”
As a corporal, Mayo learned one very important thing from one of her leaders.
“I learned years ago from a long-time mentor to never forget where I came from,” said Mayo. “The idea was instilled in me. This (award) is a part of it. I talk about my heritage and do what I can do to show young Latinas what they can do.”
She hopes to pass the message to all service members.
“America is a melting pot and so is the Marine Corps,” said Mayo. “It makes us well-rounded. Share your background and culture. Yes, we’re all Marines, but never forget where you came from.”