During Independence Day festivities in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, little Wendy watched as the students of the Instituto Adolfo V. Hall de Occidente (a military secondary school), wore their dress uniforms and marched with great discipline. From that moment on, her interest in military life grew. When she would accompany her father on his business trips to Guatemala City, she would see the “Teniente Coronel de Ingenieros e Ingeniero Francisco Vela Arango” Army Corps of Engineers Command center, and would long to go in and meet the service members who worked there. Years passed, and the girl fulfilled her dream: first, as a student at Instituto Adolfo V. Hall de Occidente, and then enrolling in the traditional Polytechnic School, her military alma mater. Today, this little girl is Guatemalan Army Second Lieutenant Wendy Audrey Saquic Melecio, on active duty in the “Teniente Coronel de Ingenieros e Ingeniero Francisco Vela Arango” Army Corps of Engineers. Diálogo spoke with 2nd Lt. Saquic, who took part in relief efforts in the aftermath of hurricanes Eta and Iota in Guatemala.
Diálogo: What tasks does an engineer carry out in relief efforts after a hurricane?
Guatemalan Army Corps of Engineers Second Lieutenant Wendy Audrey Saquic Melecio: It’s a great responsibility to provide support in natural disasters, because an officer is designated with personnel and equipment, depending on the natural disaster and the type of support required. During storms Eta and Iota, we provided support with heavy machinery. Then, we mobilized a convoy with a front-end loader, a mini-loader, a backhoe, and a tipper truck.
Diálogo: In what parts of the country were you?
2nd Lt. Saquic: We were working at [kilometer] 153 in Pasmolón village, Tactic de Alta Verapaz, where there was a mudslide blocking the main road. So we had to clear it with the convoy, with the backhoe and with the front-end loader. We have equipment all over the Republic of Guatemala. We have 17 convoys deployed.
Diálogo: How do you feel exercising two professions that have traditionally been more populated by men than women in Latin America, as is the case of the military and engineering?
2nd Lt. Saquic: It’s a rewarding feeling; I’m proud, to be honest. We are proud as women, because we have broken many paradigms, and it’s not only men that can stand out. It’s a very important role that we play, and it entails a great deal of responsibility and dedication to service. You really want to serve your country, no matter what others say. In the end, you fight for your dreams, and in my case, I am the only service member in my family. My parents, my uncles and aunts, [and] my cousins thought, “She won’t be able to make it,” or “because she is a woman,” but it wasn’t like that. Thankfully, I have the rank of second lieutenant, I studied at the Polytechnic School, and I completed my four years of study, reaching the rank of second lieutenant in the Corps of Engineers.
Diálogo: Why is it important to have women in disaster relief efforts, such as for hurricanes Iota and Eta?
2nd Lt. Saquic: Because women are orderly, we have very specific guidelines, and [we] get along quite well with the Guatemalan population. Personally, it brings me great satisfaction. Although the work is tiring, I feel happy and have the drive to continue supporting my country in any kind of natural disaster.
Diálogo: How did you feel participating in a mission that was complicated by the pandemic?
2nd Lt. Saquic: We are trained to provide immediate support to those who need it most in cases of natural disaster and public calamities. It was essential to strictly enforce protocols recommended by the Ministry of Public Health and Social Assistance. In the same way, we continue to fulfill our duties within our roles, to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Diálogo: What special skills can women in the Armed Forces offer, especially during disaster relief efforts?
2nd Lt. Saquic: Many are needed. As women, we represent maternal love that provides security, trust, and protection, since there are different areas in which female personnel work, such as air support, humanitarian aid, first aid, and food distribution, among others.
Diálogo: What skills do you need to be successful in the military, regardless of gender?
2nd Lt. Saquic: You need the training that the Armed Forces provide, combined with personal commitment, dedication to service, teamwork, and decision-making skills, especially in emergency situations and under pressure.