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 News Article

Coast Guard Executive Celebrates Hispanic Heritage

By Amaani Lyle
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, Oct. 10, 2014 – When Gladys Brignoni was a young girl, she and her family considered their hometown of San Juan a relatively “cosmopolitan” part of Puerto Rico, where life was simple, but poverty was common, she said.

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Dr. Gladys Brignoni is the deputy commander of U.S. Coast Guard Force Readiness Command, based in Norfolk, Va. U.S. Coast Guard photo

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

And today, in celebration of National Hispanic Heritage Month --observed Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 -- now-Dr. Gladys Brignoni, deputy commander of the U.S. Coast Guard’s Force Readiness Command based at Norfolk, Virginia, shared her story of overcoming linguistic, cultural and economic barriers to emerge successfully as a leader.

“Back in the ’70s when I was growing up in Puerto Rico, we talked some English in the schools, but the reality is we learned little songs,” she recalled. “I vividly remember one of those songs, ‘Pollito, chicken; gallina, hen; lapis, pencil; y pluma, pen!’”

Moving from Puerto Rico to Indiana

With limited knowledge of English and the promise of a better life, Brignoni’s family later moved to a small farm town in Indiana where nobody spoke Spanish. As a teenager there, Brignoni recounted the pressure to avoid standing out. She questioned her parents why they wanted to come to Indiana.

Brignoni said her parents told her Indiana was a place of education and opportunity that she’d grow to appreciate.

“I had many obstacles growing up there, but I realize that they were right,” she said. “It was tough, but it helped me shape who I am today and helped me understand how important it is, whether Hispanic or whatever ethnicity you are, the value of diversity.”

That viewpoint, Brignoni said, led to her earning a PhD in education.

A call to serve

“Being in academia was wonderful,” she said, “but I didn’t feel like I was giving back to this country.”

She then went to work for the Peace Corps. But during that time, 9/11 occurred, and like many Americans, her sense of patriotism intensified.

So when a civilian opportunity arose in the Defense Department, she accepted. She continued to grow and challenge herself, ultimately landing a position as a senior executive service member with the Department of Homeland Security, where her mission is to prepare the Coast Guard’s workforce through training, education and tactics, techniques and procedures.

“Because we’re a smaller service, it’s kind of more like a family and it’s really rewarding working with such a talented group of individuals,” Brignoni said.

She emphasized that her Hispanic heritage is a valuable asset that enhances an organization’s effectiveness and teamwork.

“It doesn’t matter where you come from; you bring in a different perspective,” Brignoni said. “As a manager, as a leader or supervisor, you’ve got to be able to help that individual grow.”

She noted she carries her father’s story as a reminder of the importance of education and self-improvement. Her father experienced such poverty in Rincon, Puerto Rico, that just four of his 10 siblings survived beyond childhood.

“Nobody was educated and I remember my father always telling me that I have to get educated in order to do better for myself and my family,” Brignoni said.

Diversity is an important asset

Today, she asserts that diversity remains the military’s most-significant asset and also noted the virtues in diversity of thought.

“If you come from Puerto Rico, any other country, or even different parts of the United States, there is a value in what you bring and we need to help leverage that,” Brignoni said.

Engaging the workforce, showing them they have merit and encouraging different perspectives can be challenging but is ultimately worthwhile, she said.

“As Hispanics, we have a lot of value that sometimes perhaps we forget,” Brignoni said. “If you’re different you challenge us to think differently, and we can benefit from that.”

Her advice to her military family and others aside from the pursuit of respect, education and teamwork is simple: “Always push yourself and be proud of your heritage.”

(Follow Amaani Lyle on Twitter: @LyleDODNews)

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Dr. Gladys Brignoni

Related Sites:
U.S. Coast Guard Force Readiness Command
Special Report: National Hispanic Heritage Month

Related Articles:
Hispanic Heritage Month Celebrates Cultural Diversity

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