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“I thought switching to the Coast Guard would be a great opportunity to do something more homeland-based and still stay in the drug mission since counterdrug operations are one of the Coast Guard’s primary missions.”
Before she joined the Military, Erica considered herself a small-town girl from Texas. Although she envisioned something more for herself, her parents didn’t have a lot of money, and her initial goals coming out of high school didn’t extend much beyond the borders of her everyday Rio Grande Valley life.
That is, until, Erica’s sister, who was in the Air Force, told her about the military intelligence field. Intrigued, Erica visited an Air Force recruiter.
“When I saw that they had an opportunity to become a cryptologic linguist, and I was already bilingual — I spoke Spanish — I thought this would be a great fit for me.”
At 21 years old, Erica enlisted with the Air Force and headed off to San Antonio for boot camp, then cryptologic school. Upon finishing, Erica went straight to work as a linguist in San Antonio, Texas. She rose through the ranks, eventually becoming a reporter who compiled reports that detailed crime and narcotics activities.
And the promotions for Erica kept coming. She became a lead analyst, leading the direction of written reports. After that, she was selected to coordinate the training of about 350 linguists. And between it all, Erica also went back to school, receiving a Community College of the Air Force associate degree in Applied Science, along with an Associate of Arts degree.
With two degrees under her belt paid for by the Military, Erica was just getting started. She applied to the National Defense Intelligence College in Washington, D.C.
“I was accepted into that program, which is considered the Harvard of intel schools, and received my Bachelor of Science in Strategic Intelligence. I later also received a postgraduate certificate.”
It was while at this program Erica became friends with a Coast Guard classmate who informed her that the Coast Guard was in need of intelligence officers.
In 2005, Erica was accepted as an officer via direct commission into the Coast Guard. Although Erica decided to move from the Air Force to the Coast Guard, she did not need to go through the Coast Guard’s boot camp. Instead, she participated in the three-week direct commission intelligence officer course in New London, Conn., and she made history as the first female direct commission intelligence officer.
Erica quickly collected a number of promotions and experiences. She provided intelligence to admirals as an intelligence watch officer at Coast Guard Headquarters and oversaw up to 15 people as a senior watch officer.
After serving at the National Maritime Intelligence Center and working as the operations officer at the Maritime Homeland Threat Analysis Division, Erica applied to work for the National Counterterrorism Center. She was chosen to help intelligence agencies share knowledge and work together. While serving in these roles for the Coast Guard, Erica still found time to earn a postgraduate certificate in intelligence from the National Defense Intelligence College.
“I think this is a great time to be [in the Coast Guard], just because there’s a lot of things going on in the world and especially in maritime.”
Today, Erica is an intelligence officer stationed in Washington, D.C., reporting to senior-level individuals in the various military branches and civilian agencies, including the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and other members of the intelligence community. Her role involves an array of responsibilities, on both a classified and unclassified level.
“As an intelligence officer, it’s our job to compile and analyze intel to determine the intentions and capabilities of hostile individuals or groups. I often speak with senior officials, brief them about what we believe is or is not a threat or what we see as a potential direction for terrorists and how we can go about disrupting their activities.”
Every day is different for Erica, which she thrives on and credits for being the reason she plans on staying in the Military until retirement. After she retires from the Coast Guard, she hopes to study for a degree in either psychology or sociology so she can provide counseling to young adults.
Whether it’s traveling the globe to places like Madrid and Mexico City, studying for her latest degree or briefing officials on the latest intelligence situation, Erica values each new experience.
“The Military opens so many doors. It just opens your eyes… you don’t know what’s out there until you try.”