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Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

February Journey: Susan Avina

Susan Avina, 28, a sophomore in the College of Business Administration

Many students come to Marquette fresh from high school, looking to learn the skills to find their place in the world. As a seven-year member of the U.S. Army with two deployments to Iraq, Susan Avina, 28, a sophomore in the College of Business Administration, has come to Marquette to find where life takes her next.

Avina joined the Army in February 2005 at the age of 19. “I had tried to go to college when I graduated from high school, but trying to work, pay for school, and study turned out to be too much for my 18-year-old self,” she says.

Avina spent seven years in the service training as a special equipment mechanic and working as a human resource specialist and automated logistics specialist. She has been stationed around the country in places such as Fort Jackson, S.C.,  Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, as well as two deployments to Iraq, which proved to be the most challenging and personally transforming experiences for Avina. Her unit first arrived in May 2010, during the major drawdown in Iraq.

Avina, a member of the maintenance platoon, was based out of Balad, Iraq, and the rest of her company was spread out through seven different sites to set up mobile laundry and shower services.

“Whenever a piece of equipment would break down, we were sent out in teams of two or three. We would have to either catch a convoy with another unit or try and catch a flight,” she says. “I dreaded convoys. They were long, dangerous and uncomfortable. Flying wasn’t much better, but it was so much more fun. Especially, the Black Hawks! We also flew in schnooks and C-130s.”

As Avina ended her second deployment, her workload lessened and she was sent to a military board, an event where soldiers are drilled on military knowledge in front of a panel of high-ranking officials.

“My first sergeant sent me to a military board. I ended up winning that board, and every time you win a board you move up to the next level board,” she says. “I won the company board, then the battalion board, then the brigade board and then the division board. I don’t even know how I did it! I was very excited to be an example for other female soldiers because not many make it to that level of competition.”

In addition to her recognition by the various Army boards, Avina has won many Army medals, multiple badges, and was recognized for Army excellence by retired Sgt. Maj. of the Army Kenneth O. Preston and Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, former commanding general of U.S. forces in Iraq.

Avina’s strength and faith helped her as a woman in the Army:

“In my personal experience, I had to work harder than my male coworkers to achieve the same level of success. When I was eventually given authority over other soldiers, they were all males. They didn’t like the fact that they had a female supervisor. If I was going to earn their respect and loyalty, I was going to have to push myself to my limits. That’s exactly what I did,” Avina says.  “In the end, not only my subordinates respected me, but so did my peers and supervisors. I actually look at what I experience as God’s way of shaping me into the person he wants me to become.” 

Avina eventually came back to the United States and made the adjustments back into civilian life.

“It was difficult for me to hear people complain about the little things in life,” she says. “I had to take a step back and realize that not everyone has seen the world through my eyes, so I can’t expect people to think and feel the same way as I do.”

Avina came to Marquette after transferring from the University of Wisconsin-Sheboygan where she earned her associate degree of arts and science.

“I always dreamed of coming to Marquette when I was younger,” she says. “The first time I actually applied I was denied because I didn’t have enough academic credentials. I guess it just made me work a little harder at UW-Sheboygan. I made high honors and was given a scholarship to come to Marquette.”

At age 28, Avina is older than the average undergraduate student, which can also be an adjustment.

“Sometimes it’s a little difficult to connect on a personal level with other students,” she says. “It’s not a bad thing; I’m just at a different stage in my life than when I was at 18 or 19 years old.”

On campus, Avina is involved in the Human Resource Management Organization and is currently going through Rite of Christian Initiation. She also has a passion for health, nutrition and dancing – especially cumbia, a genre of music popular in many Hispanic countries.

Avina is grateful for her life and the experiences she has made in the military.

“I met so many great people and had the opportunity to experience the world in such a unique way,” she says. “Many people thank me for my service to my country, but I’m just grateful for how the military helped shape me into the person I am today.”

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