EDITOR DANIEL CLIFTON
Melissa Hinojosa was 17 years old when she joined the Texas Army National Guard in 1997 — not much older than many of the students she now teaches in her Marble Falls High School biology classes while still serving as a lieutenant colonel.
The two worlds might seem quite different, but Hinojosa merges them in a way that her students and fellow soldiers all reap the benefits — even though they might not be aware of it.
“I think it’s given me a new level of patience,” she said of her National Guard service. “It’s definitely helped me as a teacher in that way.”
On the flip side, she gladly helps the younger soldiers with college or other studies.
When Hinojosa joined the National Guard, it was to help pay for college. She did not expect it to turn into a 20-year career.
At the University of Texas, Hinojosa joined the ROTC program. After graduation, she took an officer’s commission and became a medical service officer.
“As the medical service officer, you do the planning and coordinating for medical operations and the logistics,” she said.
Hinojosa also learned leadership, making a point to enlist senior officers as mentors.
The leadership skills she developed were put to the test in some serious situations throughout her career. Though Hinojosa has never been called up for service in Afghanistan or Iraq, she found herself most recently helping her Texas neighbors during Hurricane Harvey.
“I think that’s one of the things that makes (the National Guard) such a great service,” she said. “We could be called up for active duty, you know, to go overseas, but we also get called to help out right here. We can, and do, get activated for hurricanes, flooding, wildfires, any natural disasters.”
The National Guard fits her life and needs. Duty takes one weekend a month and two weeks of additional service, which could be at one time or cumulative. As a teacher, Hinojosa can meet her two weeks of active duty during the summer, so it’s not disruptive to her career.
“It doesn’t always work that way because sometimes you get called up during the school year,” she added.
As a single mother, the extra income through the National Guard is a big help. During the summer, Hinojosa doesn’t need a second job to augment her salary like so many of her fellow teachers.
While she’s already hit the 20-year mark in the National Guard and could retire, Hinojosa isn’t ready for that. She advanced to lieutenant colonel in January and sees herself serving a few more years, though one of her mentors is urging her to stay in to make full-bird colonel. She’ll see. Leaving the National Guard would also mean leaving her service family.
“I stay in first and foremost because it’s like a little family,” said the 36th Infantry Division Medical Operations Officer. “I miss my soldiers and staff when I don’t see them for awhile. I love working with all the different people. It definitely broadens your life perspective.”
That perspective helps her as a teacher with all the different students who walk through her classroom door every day.
Currently, Hinojosa is in her eighth year at Marble Falls High School, where she teaches pre-Advanced Placement and AP biology. Like in the National Guard, she’s found a family on campus.
“This is just a great place to be. Everyone is so supportive of each other,” Hinojosa said. “I’m a teacher, and I love it.”