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NEWS | Sept. 17, 2019

NASA Official Inspires NSWC Dahlgren Audience to ‘Find Your Voice’ at Hispanic Heritage Month Observance

By NSWCDD Corporate Communications

KING GEORGE, Va. (Sept. 13, 2019) – Sandra Alba Cauffman reminisced about watching the Apollo 11 moon landing on television as a seven year old girl growing up in Costa Rica.

Neil Armstrong stepped onto the surface of the moon with the words, “that's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” and Cauffman dreamed that she would work for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) one day.

The NASA official recounted the highlights and the obstacles she overcame to achieve the goal she set for herself as military, government civilians, and defense contractors attending the NSWCDD-sponsored Hispanic Heritage Month Observance listened at the University of Mary Washington Dahlgren campus, Sept. 13.

“Follow your dreams and do something you’re really passionate about,” advised Cauffman, after sharing her story of inspiration, education, and employment.

“Find your voice,” she said. “Don’t listen to the perceptions and judgments of others.

Cauffman – acting division director of the Earth Science Division at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Science Mission Directorate – continued reflecting on her experience while inspiring her audience to pursue and achieve their dreams.

“Stand up for what you believe and network,” said Cauffman, who earned a master’s degree in electrical engineering as well as undergraduate degrees in physics and electrical engineering from George Mason University.  “Contribute to attracting and retaining more women and minorities in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) workforce to help maximize innovation, creativity and competitiveness.”

As the deputy project manager for the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) Project, Cauffman assisted the project manager to keep the mission on track in terms of budget, schedule and technical requirements. MAVEN is a mission to explore the Martian upper atmosphere, ionosphere and interactions with the sun and solar wind.

“You don’t really manage people, you manage work,” she said. “The most important thing about dealing with people is to have good communication, a free flow of information going both ways. People should never be afraid to talk to you about anything, even mistakes. We are all about solving problems together.”

As the Acting Division Director of the Earth Science Division in NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Cauffman provides executive leadership, strategic direction, and overall management for the entire agency’s Earth Science portfolio, from technology development, applied science, research, mission implementation and operation. Her awards include the NASA Exceptional Achievement Medal and the NASA Exceptional Leadership Medal. Cauffman is a four-time recipient of the NASA Acquisition Improvement Award and is a senior fellow on the Council for Excellence in Government.

“Mrs. Cauffman’s personal narrative was truly inspiring,” said Robin Catalano, Center for Surface Combat Systems executive director, after the observance with a theme focused on: “Honoring Hispanic Americans: Essential to the Blueprint of our Nation.” 

“She faced numerous challenges and hardships throughout her journey but worked hard and broke barriers to become the strong, successful leader she is today,” said Catalano. “Mrs. Cauffman is a role model for all.”  

In the Navy, more than 50,000 Hispanic sailors serve alongside approximately 16,000 Hispanic civilians.

“There are also several Navy ships that bear the name of well known Hispanic Navy service members,” said NSWCDD Commanding Officer Capt. Casey Plew in his welcoming remarks.

“An Arleigh Burke-class destroyer – the USS Rafael Peralta (DDG-115) – was named after U.S. Marine Sgt. Peralta who was killed in combat while saving the lives of Marines during the second Battle of Fallujah in Iraq,” said Plew. “His battle-worn rifle along with a letter written to his brother, Ricardo, is displayed in the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Quantico”

Plew also reflected on the heroic actions of Army Sgt. Christopher Miranda Braman. He was a Pentagon staff member and became a national hero on Sept. 11, 2001 when he re-entered the Pentagon several times at the risk of his own life to save others as the Pentagon was engulfed in flames and smoke. President Bush awarded Sgt. Braman the Purple Heart.

“Braman comes from a Mexican American family with a history of U.S. military service,” said Plew. “His grandfathers served in the Army and Navy. Before Sgt. Braman was relieved at the Pentagon on 9/11, he helped recover 63 bodies. The sergeant also saved a life. He pulled Sheila Moody and two others from the building. The other two later died.

“My faith and training got me through it. It was as if a switch had been flipped,” said the retired sergeant in an interview after the attack. Since 9/11, Braman, who is married with three daughters has spoken around the country about his experiences while educating people about terrorism.

Hispanic Heritage Month is observed annually from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 to honor the histories, cultures and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, Central and South America.

The observation started in 1968 as Hispanic Heritage Week under President Lyndon Johnson. President Ronald Reagan expanded it in 1988 to cover 30 days starting Sept. 15 and ending Oct. 15.

Several significant dates fall within the 30-day period, starting with the anniversary of independence for five Latin American nations – Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua – on Sept. 15.

In addition, Mexico and Chile celebrate their independence days on Sept. 16 and Sept. 18, respectively. Columbus Day or Día de la Raza, which is Oct. 12, also falls within this 30-day period.

Hispanic-Americans make contributions in a myriad of fields that enable the greatness of America.

Their contributions to national defense, homeland security, the arts, sports, public service, research and development, non-profit organization management, civil rights, politics, business, agriculture, and the service industry enable America to maintain its competitiveness, relevance and position in the global landscape as the leader of the free world.

Today, thousands of Hispanic-American service members throughout the world are protecting our nation. Just as in generations past, we honor our Hispanic community—military and civilian—for significantly contributing toward protecting the United States and embodying Department of Defense values that unite the military services as one team.