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NEWS | March 10, 2016

Highlighting women of character: Petty Officer 3rd Class Soto

By Airman 1st Class Thomas T. Charlton Joint Base Charleston Public Affairs

According to www.womenshistorymonth.gov, Women's History Month began in 1982 as "Women's History Week."  The week was designated to highlight generations of women whose commitment to nature and the planet had proven invaluable to society.

For Joint Base Charleston, Women's History Month recognizes women serving in the military and highlighting the sacrifices they made to be successful. Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Maria Soto, Sector Charleston Enforcement Division maritime law enforcement specialist, is one such woman.

Being a maritime law enforcement specialist, Soto is in charge of protecting the local ports and waterfront facilities from things like illegal entry, narcotics and weapons.

According to Soto, her job is a big responsibility whether on land or at sea.

"Society is watching you when you're out there doing your job," said Soto. "You are wearing your badge, your uniform and your weapon as a symbol. You are there to help them feel safe, have their back and it's a big responsibility."

The Coast Guard detachment isn't alone. They accomplish their mission by working with several law enforcement and other government agencies.

"We work with the customs and border patrol office, the local police and several other umbrella units to ensure that our ports, waterways and coastal security is active and efficient," said Soto. "Helping one another out causes a blanket effect that ensures we are doing our job as perfectly as possible."

Being in the Coast Guard, Soto says she truly feels like she is making a difference.

"On one of our ships I was on the bridge for lookout," said Soto. "My partner and I saw people in what looked like a makeshift canoe. After getting them aboard our ship, we found out the four people had been stranded for 31 days. They survived by eating two fish and drinking salt water. They had escaped their country to go to another for more freedom. One man with them would've died had we not shown up that day. He asked to speak to us personally and asked if he could give us each a hug.  We did and he cried and thanked God for us. That was a moment and feeling I will never forget."

Saving lives and protecting her country, Soto is able to make a positive difference for those around her, and if it weren't for women before her, she says she wouldn't be where she is now.

"Women in history have empowered other women to shoot for the stars," said Soto. "Their sacrifice and hard work allow women like me today to strive for greatness. With every opportunity we have now, I feel we have shown that we are just as strong as the guys and can match up to every expectation   the guys have."

Petty Officer 2nd Class, Amy Halperin, SCED operations petty officer, agrees with Soto and believes there is no limit to what women can do.

"Being strong is beautiful," said Halperin. "Whether you're physically, academically or artistically strong, you shouldn't let anything hold you back. Doing the things you believe in, dealing with challenges and working past your comfort zone, are the things that define who you are. Don't look for validation from others, look for it in yourself. If you do that, there will be no limit to what you can do."

The Coast Guard's first women were called SPARS, which is the acronym for the Latin phrase Semper Paratus, "Always Ready." LCDR. Dorothy Stratton, the program director, coined the nickname in World War II. Today's Coast Guard women like Halperin and Soto, continue to make historic strides forward while serving their country.

"How could you quit without knowing how far you could go? You're already here, keep going, you have what it takes. Don't fear the unknown. No matter what's going on in your life, you have what it takes to make the changes you want to see," Soto said.

(This is the second story of a five-part series on Women's History Month.)