ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Nearly a quarter century of military life gave Judy Quintana a chance to travel the world, earn multiple degrees and find job opportunities that gave her a chance to excel.
Quintana loved the 23 years she spent in the U.S. Air Force and was disappointed that military memorial sites rarely honor the tens of thousands of women who have served their country.
She believes passionately that women should get more recognition for their military service. She felt so strongly, that she decided to spend $23,000 of her savings to commission a life-size statue of herself in uniform. The “Woman Warrior” statue made by master sculptors Brett Chomer of Santa Fe and Quintana’s brother, Matthew Quintana, had its first public display March 10 at the dedication ceremony for the Women Veterans Monument in Las Cruces.
The newly dedicated monument features six statues of women in different branches of the service from World War I through the present conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Unlike those statues, Quintana wanted her 5-foot 11-inch, 360-pound figure to be portable so it could travel to veterans memorial sites and communities around the state as a way of bringing recognition to the service of women in the military.
“This is what I’d wanted done for years because I’d see so many things out there for our brothers in service. For our sisters in service, it’s time for us to recognize what we have accomplished and continue to accomplish,” Quintana said.
Between now and the end of the year, her statue will be displayed at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial State Park in Angel Fire, Quintana’s home town of Dulce, Farmington, the Veterans Resource Center at Central New Mexico Community College, Socorro and the New Mexico Veterans Memorial Park in Albuquerque.
After that, the sculpture will spend a year at the Air Force Security Forces Museum in San Antonio, Texas, and a year at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial in Arlington, Va.
Quintana, 47, a member of the Jicarilla Apache tribe, grew up in Dulce and Santa Fe. She went into the Air Force in 1988 at age 17 and chose security work because she could be outside. That path took her through basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, to guarding an intercontinental ballistic missile facility at Whiteman AFB in Missouri. Next came a stint at RAF Alconbury, in England.
“Getting adjusted to driving there was really interesting,” Quintana said.
Driving was a critical part of her next posting at Ramstein Air Base in Germany where she provided security for military top brass, including Gen. Michael E. Ryan, who was commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe and commander Allied Air Forces Central Europe.
Quintana had to learn defensive driving techniques – the kind you see in action movies – where you weave in and out of moving cars, knock vehicles out of the way and reverse out of alleys and do 180-degree turns.
She returned to the U.S. and became an instructor, initially teaching ground combat skills like throwing grenades and firing weapons. She progressed to teaching about electronic security systems. Quintana called it “teaching people skills to keep them alive.”
The instructor positions gave Quintana a way to advance her education. When she started her military career as a teenager she declined to participate in the GI bill – the military program that helps pay for higher education – because she didn’t want to make the financial contribution. Quintana said the teaching jobs required her to have an associate degree so she was able to get her schooling paid for. Once started, she continued, earning two associate degrees, a bachelor’s and a master’s degree while in the service.
In September 2007, she went to the Middle East. Based at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar, she was responsible for anti-terrorism security and traveled to U.S. bases in Iraq, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Kuwait.
The job involved realistic role-playing of terrorist scenarios and flying or traveling by convoy to dangerous border checkpoints. Once, the base she was visiting in Iraq came under mortar fire. The job took its toll.
“I came back from the Middle East and I didn’t come back as the same person,” Quintana said.
Although she continued another three years with the service at Goodfellow AFB in Texas, she struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder. In 2011 she was medically retired and underwent treatment in Rio Rancho for the next two years.
Since 2013, she has been active with groups that support veterans including Women Veterans of New Mexico, Vet Riders for Wounded Warriors and Help Heal Veterans. She has toured the state meeting with veterans to learn about their needs and find ways to help them.
“Judy has been a vital part of what we do,” said David Walker, program coordinator of the Veterans Resource Center at CNM. Walker said he is full of admiration for Quintana’s dedication.
“She’s a model veteran. She sets an example for everybody and it’s high time we honor women veterans,” Walker said.