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16th Combat Aviation Brigade soldier defies limits of age

Spc. Angelia Lopez joined the Army at age 39

Spc. Angelia Lopez, currently part of the 16th Combat Aviation Brigade's operations section, won the 7th Infantry Division's 1st quarter Soldier of the Month board. Photo credit: Staff Sgt. Bryan Lewis

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For the large majority of people who join the Army, the choice to enlist came in their late teens to early 20s. That large percentage, young and single, take on all of the challenges the military presents.

One soldier, Spc. Angelia Lopez, defied the statistics by joining the Army at 39-years-old. A native of Austin, she enlisted in 2011 as a wife of a first sergeant and mother of three.

"My husband and I had been talking about me enlisting for a couple years," said Angelia, who joined as an aviation operations specialist. "I was doing medical stuff before and I wanted to do something new."

Angelina's timing added difficulty to the family dynamics because of her husband being deployed to Afghanistan.

"My girls stayed in Killeen (Texas) with my father-in-law until they graduated, and my son stayed in Austin with my mother-in-law while I went to basic training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina."

Instead of watching her kids deal with their father leaving at times for the Army, she directly experienced their reactions to her being the one to go off to basic training.

"The oldest one told me she was proud of me. My middle one kind of had a problem with it because she didn't want me to leave. We were all going to be separated, so she was upset about that. My son was too young to realize what was really going on.

"But we got through it.

"Some people have asked me, ‘how do you make it work? You and your husband have been together 22 years.' We split everything that we have to get done. For example, one of us will take our son to school, and the other one will pick him up."

Where most 40-year-olds would be put into a different mental and physical category from someone half their age, the only thing that separates Angelia from other junior soldiers is her life experience.

"The soldiers in basic training looked at me like, ‘why are you here? You're much, much older.' And because I'm older, I'm going to express my opinion. They didn't like when I would tell them to do the right thing so that we all didn't get punished."

Now currently in her first unit, 16th Combat Aviation Brigade, Angelia's role and reputation amongst her seniors and peers keeps growing.

"She is the perfect picture of how far the Army has come and what a soldier should be. Even with her age and background, her ability to adapt, execute orders ... and look after her battle buddy is phenomenal," said Sgt. 1st Class Perry L. Molden Jr., 16th CAB operations noncommissioned officer in charge.

"A lot of the soldiers have nicknamed her ‘Mama' because she always has a very mature personality, and she is always willing to help out anyone with things going on in their lives," added Sgt. Timothy C. Wooden, Angelia's direct supervisor.

Even with some supervisors that are around her kids' age, Angelia erases the notion of older people not being able to take direction from someone younger.

"Her maturity makes the age difference much easier to deal," Wooden said. "She gives you the respect your rank deserves, and you give her that respect in return for doing it so professionally."

Angelia is always looking for ways to better herself, whether it's outshining other soldiers during physical training, improving her work or furthering her education. Her biggest push was competing in and winning the 7th Infantry Division soldier of the Quarter board.

"I'm always up for a challenge and I wanted to win the boards just to prove to myself I could do it. Especially after coming back from Afghanistan last year and going to the promotion board, I just wanted to keep going."

Even with so much accomplished in only three years of military service, Angelia has not slowed down her determination to reach the next level.

"My main goal (in the Army) is to get my sergeant stripes. I want to be a leader and show these younger soldiers what right is, because you're supposed to lead by example."

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