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Home : News : News
NEWS | April 1, 2024

Women of Courage: Serving on two fronts

By Vanessa Adame 37th Training Wing Public Affairs

In commemorating Women’s History Month, the stories of two women assigned to the 37th Training Wing stand out. These leaders not only excel in their professional careers but are courageously navigating the path of motherhood, embodying strength and determination while serving in the Air Force.  

Tech. Sgt. Cindey Zeledon, a Military Training Instructor from the 737th Training Group, was born in San Francisco, California, into a world of uncertainty. As the daughter of two people living in the country illegally, her early years were marked by turbulence.

At just a few months old, with her parents’ marriage falling apart, Zeledon’s mother called immigration authorities to report herself and her children were in the country illegally. A short time later, the family was deported to their home country of Costa Rica, while the father remained in the U.S.

At the age of five, Zeledon’s father visited her in Costa Rica with plans to take her out for ice cream, but never brought her back home. Instead, he took her 3,000 miles away to live in Tampa, Fla.  

“My dad raised me with my stepmom and step siblings … they were both illegally there, so we didn’t have food stamps or any of that … a lot of the times the church would help us,” Zeledon said.  

She recalled growing up extremely poor. “I remember thinking Walmart was a luxury store and thinking that shopping at a thrift store is honestly how people lived,” she added.  

At the age of 18, she met and married her husband in 2001. Although money was tight, Zeledon didn’t let that dissuade her from pursuing her dreams. She earned an associate degree to pursue her love of fashion. However, she chose to dedicate herself as a wife and mother of five children while her husband served in the Army. They learned to live meagerly on one income, just like she had done growing up. Zeledon thrived in the role, cooking for her family and even for her husband’s squadron.  

“I was recognized as spouse of the year,” Zeledon said. “But I took a [different] look at the military because I saw females there and saw that some of them had kids and that made me think: ‘they have kids, why can’t I do it?'”  

Her journey took a decisive turn when she joined the Air National Guard in 2016 and divorced her husband. She excelled in Security Forces and as a mortuary technician, fueled by a relentless drive to succeed.  

“It was one of those things that I thought, I’m not going to be away from my kids this long and not put in all the work,” she said. 

Undeterred by the challenges of single motherhood, Zeledon set her sights on becoming a Military Training Instructor at BMT – a dream that initially seemed out of reach, constantly being told becoming an MTI would be impossible as a mother of five.  

“I talked to anyone who I thought could help,” she said, describing her sheer determination. Eventually, Zeledon learned she would have to transition to the Air Force Reserve to pursue her goal.  

By this time, she had become reacquainted with her mom who stepped in to help care for her kids while Zeledon trained to become an MTI. Her mother became a source of strength.  

“She never gave up,” Zeledon said of her mother. “I thought she had given up on me, but she never did …  she helped me raise my children.” 

Today, as a symbol of perseverance, Zeledon encourages others facing similar challenges to “let their children be their motivation, not their excuse.”  

Her story stands as a testament to the power of resilience, proving that with support, almost anything can be accomplished.  

It’s a story that rings true for Capt. Katiana Colón who’s now assigned to the 837th Training Squadron at the Inter-American Air Forces Academy. As a young child growing up in Puerto Rico, she was inspired by the stories her grandfather told of his time in the military and seeing her aunt in uniform. “I would think to myself: ‘I want to be like her when I grow up,”' Colón reminisced. 

Encouraged by her aunt’s guidance, Colón embarked on her military journey through four years of Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps during college. She met and married her then-husband before being assigned to Moody Air Force Base, Georgia, in 2015. The following year, Colón gave birth to a daughter. However, the couple soon divorced, leaving Colón to face the challenges of parenthood and her career as a single mother.  

Reflecting on almost nine years, Colón describes the initial struggle as a single mother and a young officer as somewhat of rollercoaster. 

“Juggling and learning a new job while being a newly-single mother was by far the hardest thing I’ve had to do throughout my career,” Colón said.  

Despite the challenges, Colón remained resolute in her determination to provide a positive environment for her daughter.  

“It was my decision to end the marriage, I didn’t want my daughter to grow up in a home where her parents didn’t work well together. Even if it was hard for me to navigate life as a single mother in the military, I wanted her to grow up looking up to us, being proud of us for the things we’ve accomplished in our careers,” she said. 

Colón soon found herself at a new base shouldering the responsibility of an Installation Deployment Officer – it was a job that tested her limits.  

“It was the hardest job in my military career,” Colón recalled having to deploy two fighter squadrons simultaneously, while also going through her own personal struggles.  

Colón’s eyes filled with tears as she recalled how her mother was there for her during the tough times, a support that propelled her forward into her professional career. In 2019, she volunteered for a deployment to Qatar to thrust herself into her work.

However, despite making childcare arrangements her ex-husband’s circumstances changed and he could no longer care for their daughter after one month. Thankfully, Colón’s parents were able to travel from Puerto Rico to care for their granddaughter during the 10-month deployment. 

While Colón has had additional difficulties, she’s learned to forge ahead, determined to level the playing field through sheer determination and hard work.

“I'll call my mom and say, I need to go on a temporary-duty assignment … this is going to be good for my career,” Colón said, who’s now a flight commander. Colón has deployed twice in nine years and has supported various engagements including the Air Force Association Symposium and mobile training teams and assessments in Panama, Mexico and Colombia.  

Although, being a mother is a role she’s very proud of, Colón said she does not want to be viewed only as a mom. She will soon promote to major, and also has an assignment to Korea where she will support a Special Warfare unit.  

“This is where I’ve always wanted to go, and I’m really excited for this opportunity,” she said. “I’m excited to have my daughter see and learn a new culture.” 

Colón said there’s many milestones she’d like to achieve, such as furthering her education.  

She offers words of advice to others who may be in her shoes, “Don’t let anyone else dictate what you should be doing; fight for what you believe in.” 

As for Zeledon, she is proud to wear the uniform. While she takes great pride in once being a stay-at-home mom, she wants women to know they don’t have to limit themselves.  

“Being a mother and a wife is amazing, I loved it,” she said, “But, it’s not the only thing that I was capable of. There was much more to my identity as an individual. Sometimes all it takes is for someone to help guide us and say, ‘this is the path.'" 

Zeledon recently remarried, a dream she never thought would come true, as a mother of five. Professionally, she hopes to pave the way for others as a first sergeant.