NRO Airman represents Latina strength: Beats cancer, starts campaign, earns award

  • Published
  • By Tom Knowles
  • National Reconnaissance Office, Office of Public Affairs


Tech. Sgt. Carmen Washington, non-commissioned officer in charge of the National Reconnaissance Office Operations Squadron, earned the 2017 Latina Style Distinguished Military Service Award, in Washington D.C., Sept. 15.


Presented annually at the National LATINA Symposium, the award recognizes the exemplary service of women in the military and Department of Defense workforce who have enhanced the role of Latinas throughout the Armed Forces. 


Washington was one of only 16 Distinguished DoD recipients, representing all branches of the U.S. military, recognized at the event. The 10-year Air Force veteran received the award in recognition of her inspirational achievements launching a breast health and cancer awareness campaign while fighting her own battle with the disease.


"Carmen’s story is really impressive,” said Lt. Col. Eric Doctor, NRO Operations Squadron director of operations. “She not only fought and beat the disease, but turned her struggle into an effort to ensure others either did not have to face that challenge or are better prepared for the struggle.”


While her bravery and fighting spirit are exemplary and an inspiration to the people around her, Washington accomplished more following her diagnosis with stage-three breast cancer. 


In addition to enduring extensive chemotherapy, radiation treatment and reconstructive surgery, she launched a campaign to end the disease, providing hope, education and inspiration to countless individuals and communities throughout the nation.


“I am very grateful and blessed to be one of the 2017 Latina Style Distinguished Military Service Award recipients,” said Washington. “I am also extremely honored to have the opportunity to represent the United States Air Force, the Latinas in the Department of Defense, and the Hispanic community.”


Washington’s notable achievements includes service as a patient advocate to new cancer patients, media interviews and public speaking appearances to share her cancer story, a public service announcement video demonstrating chemotherapy procedures for new patients and fundraising efforts resulting in more than $13,000 for cancer research studies and local medical services. Washington credits her parents for instilling an unbreakable work ethic and perseverance in the face of insurmountable odds.


“This award is very special to me because it’s a reminder of where I come from and how hard my family and I have worked to get to where we are,” Washington said. “My parents are immigrants from Mexico and they came to the United States in search of the American Dream.”


Washington praised her squadron leadership for their incredible encouragement and assistance supporting her professional and personal growth, while overcoming the adversity of battling cancer as a single parent.  


“I am blessed to have servant leadership in my chain of command who put their people first and take care of them 24/7,” Washington said. “They have always been very supportive. They motivated me to earn my bachelor’s degree and earn the rank of technical sergeant. We need more leaders like my leadership, because when you take care of your people, on and off-duty, they will be loyal to you and take care of the mission no matter what.”


Twenty-seven months following her initial diagnosis, Washington is cancer-free and continues to help others. Recently, she shared her story with the Air Force Chief of Staff and other top-ranking leaders to shape the Air Force Wounded Warrior Program strategy, a Congressionally-mandated program that provides personalized care, services and advocacy to wounded, ill or injured recovering service members. Washington also serves as an AFW2 ambassador and mentor, supporting engagements with Air Force and community leaders to advocate on behalf of DoD wounded personnel.