Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point --
Superheroes come in all sizes and all kinds of disguises
- Sgt. Alicia Hojara is living proof of that.
It is mid-December, and the diminutive Marine is
surrounded by a theater full of young children and their families, their enrapt
faces 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,
seems to be just what some of these families need at the moment - an escape
from real world worries to a place where they can ... well ... just relax.
Hojara has left her uniform home, replaced by a different
kind of camouflage - casual clothes, hair at ease, and a gentle expression that
puts her young charges at ease when they need it the most.
Most other days, you can find Hojara working with 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 aboard Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point. 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 sits in the shadowy theater on a mission with
Snowball Express, draped in her invisible cape of good will, she feels a kind
of satisfaction that most 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.
"I work at the Good Grief Camps and seminars for
children," says Hojara. "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
"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. 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," adds Hojara. "These families don't have that
connection anymore and we are that resource for them."
It is this kind of attitude and dedication that would
later earn Hojara the Carteret County Chamber of Commerce's Service Person of
the Quarter award during an honorary luncheon in Emerald Isle, N.C., Feb.
10. This award is given to a good
service member who has given up valuable personal time to give something back
to the community.
At the event, Hojara would stress that others should get
out and volunteer.
"Find something that you love. People are always looking for volunteers in
the local community. 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."
Meanwhile, back in that almost-magical theater, Hojara
isn't thinking about awards and speeches to come. She is focused on shining eyes and big smiles
on the faces of those truly thankful for her superhero-esque gesture. Later, when she returns from this mission of
mercy, she will don her familiar green and khaki uniform, adjust her laser-like
focus to her "daytime" mission, and will mentor young Marines on the
challenges that lay ahead of them.
Unlike some superheroes ... this Marine shows her strength whether she
is wearing her cape or not.