By U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Cody Lemons
Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point
U.S. MARINE CORPS AIR STATION CHERRY POINT, N.C., March 3, 2017 — Superheroes come in all sizes and all kinds of disguises — Marine Corps Sgt. Alicia Hojara is living proof of that.
In mid-December, the diminutive Marine was surrounded by a theater full of children and their families, their expressions changing from anticipation to hope to laughter in the flickering glow of the big screen. The movie, a new animated feature with comical animal characters and lots of hopeful vocals, seemed to be just what some of these families need at the moment: an escape from real-world worries to a place where they could just relax.
Hojara had left her uniform home, replaced by a different kind of camouflage — casual clothes, hair at ease, and a gentle expression that put her young charges at ease when they need it the most.
Most other days, you can find Hojara at the front of a classroom of young Marines as they navigate their way through the intricate details of aviation ordnance handling at the Center for Naval Aviation Technical Training Unit here. There’s no kid’s play here; this is serious work that will prepare the next batch of aviation ordnance Marines to load teeth onto the modern-day dragons that squat across Marine Corps flight lines around the world.
But, from time to time, Hojara slips away like Clark Kent to take on another heroic mission, volunteering her time to help families who have lost an active-duty loved one. Hojara routinely makes time to volunteer for different organizations, such as local humane societies for the protection of animals; Snowball Express, which provides support to families of deceased service members; and her favorite, the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, otherwise known as TAPS.
As Hojara sat in the shadowy theater on a mission with Snowball Express, draped in her invisible cape of good will, she feels the kind of satisfaction that superheroes must experience every time they swoop down and pull a victim a little further from despair. Chalk up one more for the good guys.
Maintaining Military Ties
“I work at the Good Grief Camps and seminars for children,” Hojara said. “It’s the child’s connection to the military, because a lot of times when they lose that family member who’s in the military, they get separated from the military lifestyle. They don’t live on base anymore, and a lot of them go back home, so it’s just kind of that connection to the military for those kids. We are mentors for the weekend, and we take them on campouts and do different things in different cities.”
“The rewarding feeling I get from giving back to these families, seeing that child’s face light up and seeing the bond that’s created between the military mentor and that child is completely worth it to me,” she said. “The connections we make last more than a weekend. … Some mentors stay in that child’s life. We go to graduations, important events like a recital or sporting event, help them pick out colleges. We become a part of their support network and are welcomed as family.”
“If something were to happen to me, I would want those resources for my family,” Hojara added. “These families don’t have that connection anymore, and we are that resource for them.”
Her attitude and dedication earned Hojara the Carteret County Chamber of Commerce’s Service Person of the Quarter award, which is given to a service member who has given up personal time to give something back to the community. At the Feb. 10 award luncheon in Emerald Isle, North Carolina, she stressed that others should get out and volunteer.
“Find something that you love. People are always looking for volunteers in the local community,” she said. “It doesn’t matter how you volunteer. It doesn’t have to be with kids, and it doesn’t have to be with pets. If you enjoy getting to know older people’s stories, go to a nursing home and spend time with them.”
But in that almost-magical theater, Hojara wasn’t thinking about awards and speeches to come. She just focused on shining eyes and the big smiles on the faces of those truly thankful for her superhero-like gesture. Later, she would don her familiar green and khaki uniform, adjust her laser-like focus to her “daytime” mission, and mentor young Marines on the challenges that lie ahead. Unlike some superheroes, this Marine shows her strength whether she is wearing her cape or not.
U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Alicia Hojara, center, an instructor at the Naval Aviation Technical Training Unit at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C., holds the flag she received as the Carteret County Chamber of Commerce’s Service Person of the Quarter, Feb. 10, 2017. Master Sgt. Christopher McGuire, left, and Lt. Col. Garrett Randel, right, nominated Hojara for her dedication to giving back to the local community. Randel is the school’s commander and McGuire is the aviation ordnance chief. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Cody Lemons