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NEWS | March 6, 2019

A sense of belonging

By Senior Airman Tristan Biese 633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

Amongst history books, the United States of America is known as a melting pot and a place to seek the “American Dream”.

At the age of 13, Valeria Melton and her family sought that out when they moved from Caracas, Venezuela to Lakeland, Florida.

“When we moved here we had very little to nothing, but moving to the U.S. was really just a second chance at life,” said Melton, now a U.S. Army sergeant.

For Melton, connecting with others was difficult. Being from another culture and country, certain things were different such as the TV shows she watched or the music she listened to growing up.

Once she graduated from high school, Melton studied at the University of Florida and practiced as an emergency medical technician for two years. Melton was fascinated with the medical field and on Feb. 12, 2012, she entered the delayed entry program for the Army to be a combat medic. Six months later she left for basic training.

“From personal experience, I know how important it can be to have someone who knows what they are doing and that they are doing it well,” she said. “In the event that someone did get hurt, I wanted to be there and give them the best care possible.”

Melton continued as a combat medic for four years until later re-classifying as a respiratory therapist.

“[Being a respiratory therapist] allows more patient interaction and [allows] more one on one interaction,” she said. “My little brother needed a respiratory therapist when he was little. So seeing how his respiratory therapist cared for him made it something I wanted to do for others.”

Now at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, Melton is the NCO in charge of internal medicine at the McDonald Army Health Clinic. It is the duty of an NCO to uphold their responsibilities, be technically competent, be a quality leader and trainer and maintain the wellbeing of Soldiers and their families.

“You can’t expect your Soldiers to meet the standards if you don’t embody them,” she said. “You can’t just talk the talk. You have to be able to walk the walk.”

While Melton may not have any Soldiers reporting to her, she still leads and mentors other Soldiers throughout the medical center. Whether they are having trouble with work, need someone to vent to or need help with PT, Melton is willing to help.

“It’s in the small things, like saying good morning and making sure they are ok,” she said. “The big stuff like leading troops is easy, you can learn that. But it’s in paying attention to the people that you’re with – I think that’s where it’s key.”

According to Melton, mentoring and helping other Soldiers is a small way to give back to a military branch that has done so much for her. While she still had her Permanent Residence Card up until she enlisted and had much to learn about being a Soldier, the U.S. Army welcomed her with open arms.

“The Army has given me a sense of belonging,” she said. “For me as an immigrant, it can get pretty hard sometimes to fit in somewhere. But in the Army you get people from everywhere and it doesn’t matter where you’re stationed – there is somebody there from somewhere else.”