Irene Zoppi Rodriguez

Colonel, US Army Reserve

Location: Annapolis, MD

"I am fully devoted to my country, our community and family values to continue to make America superb."

As a Latina, I was encouraged and supported by my close-knit family. My grandmother, mother and aunts taught me to lean in and follow my inner calling. My grandfather also told me, "Success equals desire and opportunity. If you do not get the opportunity—make it!"

I joined the Army in 1985 with poor English language skills. I was told that women did not belong in the US Army and I would never amount to anything. I remembered the support from my family and my grandfather's advice—and I pressed on to achieve my goals.

My English skills have been honed. I speak five languages. I have a PhD from University of Maryland; MBA from Johns Hopkins; Master of Strategic Studies from US Army War Colllege and 25 years of military service (including being a combat veteran). Today I am one of only 15 Latinas in the selective reserve (TPU) who hold the rank of Colonel.

While I found that I often had to mentor myself, I also made the effort to ask for others to help me along the way. I also learned that a "no" was an invitation to try harder.

I feel a strong calling to be a role model to other women. In fact, my dissertation was about Latino women leaders in the military—I want to pay it forward. Also, I see the glass ceiling for Latinas to become General officers—we still struggle and so far have no representation at that rank.

I have been married to a great man for 24 years with three awesome kids. I am fully devoted to my country, our community and family values to continue to make America superb.