12:05 PM

Puerto Rico Wing’s Sanchez Pursues Mission to Mentor — and Change Lives

Paul South
Contribuiting Writer

Ask Capt. Angelymar Sanchez about Civil Air Patrol’s impact on her, and she doesn’t hesitate.

“Civil Air Patrol has changed my life,” she says.

Now Sanchez, a 2019 Gen. Carl A. Spaatz Award recipient who just earned her private pilot certificate, is on a mission to change the lives of others. It’s her dream, she says, her passion.

The Spaatz award, and the accompanying rank of cadet colonel, only deepened that drive.

“That’s the peak of my whole career as a cadet,” she said. “When you start out as a cadet, you’re the one everyone needs to take care of; they guide you. They teach you. And then when you get to sergeant, you stop being the one taken care of, and you start taking care of others.

“[Earning the] Spaatz award means that I’m a full servant,” said Sanchez, who turned 21 this summer and became a CAP senior member in the Puerto Rico Wing.

“Now is my time to give everything,” she said. “Now it’s my time to help you, to guide you, to be your mentor. I’m no longer here to be taken care of by other officers. I’m here to take care of you.”

The Spaatz award is CAP’s highest cadet honor, achieved by less than one-half of 1 percent of all cadets. Named for the first chief of staff of the U.S. Air Force, the award is presented to those who have demonstrated excellence in leadership, character, fitness and aerospace education.

Sanchez credits her mentors, Lt. Cols. Ismael Rodriguez and Ivelisse Peña, for her success. “They are my mentors, and my achievements are their achievements,” she said.

Rodriguez is the wing’s director of cadet programs, and she led Sanchez in her quest to earn the Spaatz award. Peña, Sanchez’s commander in the Muñiz Air National Guard Base Cadet Squadron, encouraged her to earn her private pilot certificate. Peña recently became the wing’s director of aerospace education.

Their influence lives on in Sanchez.

A third-year engineering student at the University of Puerto Rico-Mayaguez, Sanchez juggles academics with work on the university’s internationally competitive team that designs, builds and races Formula 1-style race cars.

And she continues to mentor young CAP cadets, making five-hour round trips on the weekends to help with the Muñiz squadron, based in the city of Carolina. She also works with young girls, teaching rocketry, building drones, résumé writing and public speaking.

But Sanchez became a mentor long before earning her private pilot certificate or achieving the Spaatz award.

Consider this story:

The kid kept to himself. But Sanchez saw potential in then-Cadet Tech. Sgt. Gabriel Fidalgo. And she saw the opportunity to do what she loves.

“Why don’t you try leadership training?” she asked.

“No, ma’am,” he responded. “I’m too shy. I don’t have the experience.”

But Sanchez had a ready-made mission for Fidalgo — as a public affairs officer for the cadet squadron.

“I don’t have a camera and I don’t know how to write a story” came his reluctant response. Sanchez was ready.

“That’s OK,” she said. “We’ll teach you. You just need to accept the challenge.”

Months later, upon returning home from college for winter break, Sanchez encountered Fidalgo, serving as the squadron public affairs officer and as the media point person for a local gathering of the Military Order of the World Wars.

For Sanchez, mission accomplished.

“He grew from not knowing how to do anything to be an official PAO for an activity like this,” she said. “I’m really proud of him. If you believe in someone else, they will make you proud.”

As she balances college, flying, racing and CAP, Sanchez never stops talking to young people about their potential that can be unlocked through science, technology, education and math (STEM) careers and military service.

Part of her message is to convince youth — many of them girls — that the challenges of poverty and gender stereotypes can be overcome through CAP.

Sanchez also worked in a program sponsored by JetBlue encouraging economically disadvantaged girls 12-18 to pursue STEM careers. Hurricane Maria, which devastated Puerto Rico in 2017, worsened the economic challenges many face.

Private and public partnerships, like CAP’s collaboration with Continental Motors Group and the U.S. Air Force, are helping cadets like Sanchez with aviation training. Continental provided her with a $12,000 scholarship to assist with her pilot training. These types of initiatives are intended to help alleviate the nation’s pilot shortage.

It’s part of a wider effort to build a larger, more diverse CAP, beginning at the cadet level.

“Civil Air Patrol is for everyone,” said Wendy Hamilton, cadet careers activities program manager at CAP National Headquarters. “For Capt. Sanchez, being from the Puerto Rico Wing, which is a very strong wing for us, she is an exemplar of what you can achieve when you put your mind to it.”

Sanchez was looking for a job in 2015 when her potential employer pointed her to the Muñiz squadron. It was a perfect fit.

“I would like to say we were instrumental in instilling all these thoughts in her head that she could do it,” Hamilton said. “But I suspect that no matter where she is, Capt. Sanchez will be successful. I’m just glad she found CAP to begin with, and I wish more people would do so to help them realize aerospace dreams.

“For her, she focused not just on her flying, which is a passion and a joy, but also on how important her education is. Before she even showed up on our radar for flight scholarships, she was already applying herself to be successful in college.”

Now that Sanchez has earned her pilot’s certificate, her goals concern not only conquering the skies but also inspiring the hearts and minds of young people. Mentoring, she says, is her “dream job.” She’ll have that opportunity now that she’s a senior member, serving as her squadron's aerospace education officer and her wing’s internal aerospace education officer.

“I just want to pursue my passion: to teach, to be a mentor, to do what I like and put in practice what I learn.”

How passionate is she about sharing what she’s learned in the classroom, in the cockpit and beyond? Consider her two-word response when someone suggested she had too much on her plate to continue the five-hour weekend trips home to mentor cadets.

It couldn’t be done, she was told.

Her answer?

“Watch me.”

And when she makes her CAP pitch to others, Sanchez’s passion shines. She wants to help others re-create themselves through the organization.

“Civil Air Patrol has made a new person out of me,” she said. “It’s made a new path. It’s opened my mind to new opportunities I never thought I could do before. I never thought of myself being a pilot. I never thought I could give a speech or talk to someone in English.

“But now I’m more confident. I know what I’m doing. I’m a whole different person, a professional. And I’m very grateful for that.”