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Courtesy photo

AET2 Dayna Sandoval is pictured with her son Tayshuz Martinez, 7, holding the shadowbox of an eagle feather award from the Society of American Indian Government Employees.

A Taos Pueblo woman has been recognized by the U.S. Coast Guard with two awards this year. She is Dayna A. Sandoval, an Avionics Electrical Technician Second Class (AET2) with the U.S. Coast Guard, stationed in Sacramento, California.

Sandoval has been noted not only for her meritorious service, but also as a woman who has strived to be the best in her field and in so doing has become an inspiration to other young women and youth.

The 2002 Taos High School graduate and single mother with a 7-year-old son has served 19 years in the military. She is due to retire next year. Her mom is Ann Sandoval, and she has a brother Guyven and sister Deelavon. Her uncle and aunt are Ben and Debbie Sandoval, owners of the Tiwa Kitchen, a well-known restaurant at Taos Pueblo.

During her time in the military, she has amassed a great deal of expertise in a variety of technical and leadership positions while maintaining the Coast Guard’s aircraft, all while raising a little one. “I hope my story can serve as an inspiration to the young women and the young minds back at home,” she said by phone Tuesday (Nov. 30). 

Deciding to join the military soon after graduation was the convergence of several factors, not the least of which was her family's history of military service. “It wasn’t only because of Grampa Joe (Sandoval) and his brothers, they all served in the military in different branches. Originally, I wanted to continue that.”

But, ultimately, it came down to a feeling.

“I wanted to fly. That was one of my biggest goals in life,” she said. “If you know, when you’re young, and they say in schools, ‘What do you want to do? What could you do? Shoot for the stars!’ That, is what I wanted to do — be in the stars.”

Her hard work and dedication was recognized with a Coast Guard Achievement Medal in January. Noted in the citation was her “superior performance of duty while serving at Coast Guard Air Station Sacramento from July 2013 to December 2020. As a night shift supervisor and a quality assurance inspector, Petty Officer (Sandoval) led a seven-member team through a multitude of scheduled and unscheduled maintenance and managed over 10,000 maintenance labor hours over a seven-year period.” During this period, she maintained a high level of professionalism, diligence and perseverance that “are in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Coast Guard.”

In addition, she was awarded the 2021 Military Meritorious Service Award by the Society of American Indian Government Employees (SAIGE). This award, which was presented September 15, 2021, honors military members, veterans and Department of Defense civilian employees “who have risen above and gone beyond the mission, and whose attributes best epitomize the qualities and core values of their military service,” a SAIGE announcement states.

A statement from Go Coast Guard reads, “Sandoval acts as a bridge between the Coast Guard, the Taos community and Pueblo, traveling home to participate in ceremonials and tribal duties for the Red Willow tribe and providing mentorship and guidance about military careers to a group that would otherwise have little to no exposure to the missions of the Coast Guard. AET2 Sandoval is an inspiration for Native American women and youth through her work in the USCG and her community.”

SAIGE is a national nonprofit organization that advocates for American Indian and Alaska Native people in the government/military workforce. SAIGE membership is open to all government employees, contractors, uniformed personnel and retirees.

Sandoval said as a young Pueblo Indian woman, “being guided by the grandmothers and the aunties,” she was always aware of the question, “how can I be of help?” In the meantime, she said she participated in her tribal ceremonials and intertribal traditions with her uncle Robert Mirabal, with whom she would travel to performances in big cities. Inside, though, she said she knew she was destined for something big.

A light went off when she learned of an opportunity at the New Mexico Military Institute in Roswell, N.M. There she learned discipline and focus, but most of all “it taught me how to believe in myself.” 

Eventually, she joined the Coast Guard because “they didn’t just go to war,” she said. “They are completely capable of turning into the Department of Defense and joining with the Navy, but when there’s not war … they do humanitarian services, they help during natural disasters.” They engage in big things, ways that bring people in distress to safety and wellbeing, she said. “We’re warriors. We protect our homeland, North America and all its parts, that’s where I found my connection.”

While serving in the Coast Guard, Sandoval has traveled from the North Pole to central America on missions that have brought pride and honor to her family and her village back home.

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