JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, S.C. –
Women's History Month recognizes women for their hard work, positive influences and the changes they've made in the world.
For Joint Base Charleston, Women's History Month recognizes women serving in the military and highlighting the sacrifices they made to be successful. Army Sergeant Mariela Payan, 841st Transportation Battalion documentation non-commissioned officer in charge, is one such woman.
As the documentation NCO, Payan assists incoming military or civilian cargo ships obtain clearance to dock at ports throughout the East Coast. These ships transport military cargo to US armed forces units around the world.
"For ships to load or unload cargo, they must coordinate with our unit before they are able to clear customs," said Payan. "It's not just here in Charleston, we are responsible for 193 ports from Jacksonville, Florida, all the way to Maine."
Her job is being the liaison between customs and the cargo ships and ensuring everything runs smoothly.
"We may be the middle-man but, if we weren't here, getting vessels cleared in and out of ports would be a much more challenging process," said Payan. "Without us, ships and cargo would get delayed costing time and money."
A detailed process is used by Payan and her team to get these ships approval to dock.
"We have a computerized system that allows us to cross-reference the ship's and the cargo's credentials. The system also allows us to input their information and submit the documents to the Surface Distribution and Deployment Command," said Payan. "This overall process ensures the safety of who and what is docking in our ports."
Not every Soldier gets to choose their job but Payan is actually in the job she wanted.
"When I joined I wanted to either be supply or transportation," said Payan. "Though I have an architect degree, I wanted to do something different. Getting into the transportation career field has been quite the experience, but now I'm actually getting to do supply. There was an opening and I volunteered for the position and will be transferring over soon."
Because of the opportunity to do both transportation and supply, Payan will bring her talents to a whole new career field.
"Sergeant Payan is an exemplary Soldier. In this building, if you need something done and you need help, she is the person to go to," said Staff Sergeant Armond Evansscott, 841st Transportation Battalion freight non-commissioned officer in charge.
Like the ships traveling in and out of the ports of the East Coast, Payan has traveled a great deal.
"I was actually born in Cuba and lived there until I was 20," said Payan. "At 20, I left for Austria where I studied to be an architect. When I was 35, I felt like the Austrian lifestyle just wasn't for me anymore. I moved to Florida to be with family members who already lived there."
Even though she earned her Bachelor's Degree in architecture, Payan found herself taking a different path.
"When I got to Florida around 2007, there weren't a lot of architect jobs open in the area, and it was going to be about a year before I could do any work in any of the other states," said Payan. "So after thinking about it, when I was 37, I joined the U.S. Army."
A woman who has travelled and seen much, even before enlisting, Payan sees Women's History Month in a bit of a different light.
"I find Women's History Month to be a form of a label," said Payan. "As long as women don't have 100% equality to men, I am happy it exists. However, once equality is achieved, there shouldn't be a need for it any longer."
According to Payan, being a woman isn't the only obstacle she has had to overcome.
"Because of the repeal of the 'Don't ask, don't tell' Act (est. 2010), I was able to open up that I was a lesbian," said Payan."
Also because of the repeal, Payan was finally able to be with her significant other.
"A year ago, I was able to marry my best friend, Nelideisy Fernandez," said Payan. "Now, when I go to work, I am able to be open about my personal life a bit more, which helps the true me come out. Being open about my experience lets me relax, improve myself as a Soldier and relate with the coworkers in my office. For instance, my wife now comes to all of my ceremonies with her two children."
Payan feels anyone who is different, whether they're a woman, come from a different background or are of another nationality, need to be proud of who they are.
"You should be open about who and what you are," said Payan. "Be clear and honest about it and respectful and professional at the same time. If you want to be the best you that you can be, for both the military and the real world, be true to yourself."