The Work of a Female Soldier Following the Hurricanes in Guatemala
By Marcos Ommati/Diálogo May 03, 2021
The first contact Lesvia Leticia Gallardo Morales had with the Guatemalan Armed Forces was when she first saw soldiers patrolling near her house. The then 5-year-old turned to her mother and said, “When I grow up, I want to be a soldier.” Throughout the years, she kept reminding her mother, but the answer was always no. She was so persistent that her mother finally gave her the green light, with a “Fine, my child, may God bless you.” Today, she serves with the Colonel Antonio José de Irisarri Sixth Infantry Brigade, based in Playa Grande, Ixcán, Quiche department. She is proud to be Guatemalan Army Private Gallardo. As a specialist in Civil-Military Relations and Humanitarian Assistance, she was called to take part in relief efforts in the aftermath of hurricanes Eta and Iota. Diálogo spoke with Private Gallardo about this rewarding experience, not only for her military career, but also for the rest of her life.
Diálogo: How did you feel participating in a mission that was so complicated during the pandemic?
Guatemalan Army Private Lesvia Leticia Gallardo Morales: First of all, I would like to tell you that I am a COVID-19 survivor. Being in this mission was not easy at all for me, because the after-effects of this disease are very complicated. My [immune system] defenses were not a 100 percent, so I had to strictly follow security protocols to protect myself, because we went to communities to evacuate people, deliver food, or assess damage caused by storms Eta and Iota. On occasions, we were wet the entire day, because we had to get into the water or work in the rain. I was very scared, because I could get infected again. Another aspect was being away from my family, knowing that they too were at risk due to the storms and the pandemic; because of that, I was constantly in contact with them. But this did not stop me from doing my job and doing what I love: helping.
Diálogo: How was your interaction with North American service members during rescue missions?
Pvt. Gallardo: Thankfully, they were always watching out for our communities. They never stopped helping. They looked for the place, they figured out how the helicopters could land [and] bring aid, because they would say, “You are not alone; we are here.” We had U.S. teams and even a team from Canada. They didn’t mind being waist deep in mud. They sweated; rain poured down on them like you wouldn’t believe. They injured their feet, their hands. They brought medicine, food. They brought clothes, mattresses. They provided all kinds of help to our communities.
Diálogo: Could you share an anecdote about something special that happened to you during the rescue efforts after hurricanes Eta and Iota?
Pvt. Gallardo: When we first arrived in the municipality of Chisec, our first rescue involved a pregnant woman. She was about eight months and two weeks pregnant. There was no way to enter the Chisec area, no way to transit, much less for a helicopter to land, because everything was totally flooded. So what we did was see who could provide support with a raft-type boat, so that we could transfer the woman. To me, the most painful and saddest part was that the woman was a single mother, living in extreme poverty; her house had been completely swept away by the water. She had a 6-year-old girl, whose words I still carry in my mind: “My mom will come back; my mom will be fine.” So, at that time we did everything possible to transfer the woman by speedboat to a village called Sonté, in the Cobán municipality. We took her there, but we had to walk for about 45 minutes, and I carried the girl in my arms. The little girl hugged me and said: “Promise me that my mom will be fine and that she will come back.” Unfortunately, the woman was experiencing a difficult delivery. She was anemic, and the doctor at the Cobán hospital said: “We have no hope for her, much less for the child.”
Diálogo: And what happened to the girl?
Pvt. Gallardo: Unfortunately, the woman died. We contacted her relatives to hand over the girl, but the truth is that we [the military] cannot do that, as it is the responsibility of Human Rights [teams]. What we know is that the girl is fine, with a family.
Diálogo: If you could talk to the girl you rescued, what would you tell her?
Pvt. Gallardo: I would tell the girl that she is not alone. That God is with her, and God knows why we arrived at that difficult moment; and that she can move forward, that she should fight for her dreams, and that support will always be with her all over the world, all over the country, and that the Army will always be supporting her. And I personally, as a mother, can tell her that an angel will always be by her side. That she is not alone!
Diálogo: What does it take to succeed in the military, regardless of gender?
Pvt. Gallardo: The answer to this question has three aspects:
First: Honor. Honor is an essential value for the military, because it works as a guide and as an engine that drives one to do well when performing military duty. As members of such an important institution for Guatemala, we must always act with honor to maintain the prestige of our glorious Army.
Second: Loyalty. It’s the loyalty to superiors, comrades, and subordinates, as well as to fulfilling the commitment to honor the country. This is reflected in the trust that our institution maintains among the people of Guatemala.
Third: Sacrifice. Military sacrifice lies in the daily challenges to fulfill duties in a timely manner, and to be well-prepared both intellectually and physically.
To conclude, I want to share a saying by Audrey Hepburn, dedicated especially to those women who strive to provide for their homes day in and day out: “For beautiful eyes, look for the good in others; for beautiful lips, speak only words of kindness; and for poise, walk with the knowledge that you are never alone.”