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Posted: December 6, 2017 4:04 p.m.
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Far from home, close to Family

Spc. Elizabeth White/

STB 3rd ID RSSB, and her sister Sgt. 1st Class Maria Duena, the executive officer for the senior enlisted leader of the Resolute Support United States Forces - Afghanistan, pose for a picture at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan on Nov. 25. This is the first time the sisters have been together during their time in service.

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BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan - Two sisters, who grew up closer than two peas in a pod were spread far and wide through the course of their separate lives. Now, briefly, they have been brought back together again in a place far away from their shared childhood home.

Sergeant 1st Class Maria Duena and Spc. Damirra Palacios had humble beginnings. Raised by their single mother along with their four brothers, money was tight in their house. Both sisters had to work long hours at young ages to be able to support their family. They were constantly moving with the kids having to switch schools nearly every time.

“I was 14 years old when I worked at McDonald’s,” said Duena. “I had to lie and say I was 16.”

The family lived in a volatile area of Chicago and they were no strangers to the gang violence that plagued the city. They were determined not to let these obstacles affect the course of their lives. 

“Crime was everywhere, we could’ve fallen into the wrong footsteps,” Duena said. “We were going to make Mom proud, we were not going to be a product of our environment.”

As the only two girls in their predominantly male household, Duena and Palacios formed a bond that no distance could break. They said that their independent mother, who raised all her children on her own, served as an example that they could be strong too.

Duena would be the first to join the Army.

Initially going to school part time and working full time, Duena saw the Army as an opportunity to change her priorities and to focus on school. Her original plan to join for only four years has changed to span a decade.

Her younger sister would follow in her footsteps four years after Duena had joined. Palacios enlisted with confidence after seeing her older sister pave the way. 

“[My sister] could give me insight into the Army, it was comforting,” said Palacios. “I was tired of working and going to school full time. This felt right and it felt different.”

Anyone in the Army can tell you how seemingly small it is. You could run into someone you went through initial training with two years later or go from assignment to assignment with the same person. Despite this, Duena’s and Palacios’ career paths wouldn’t cross until they both were deployed to Afghanistan this year.

Now, Palacios is an operations specialist with the Special Troops Battalion, 3rd Infantry Division Resolute Support Sustainment Brigade at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. She acts as the aid for the battalion’s senior enlisted advisor.

Duena is the executive officer to the senior enlisted advisor of the Resolute Support United States Forces - Afghanistan. Since her assignment keeps her moving around the country, Duena and Palacios are able to reunite when Duena comes to BAF.

“We had wished to be along side each other,” said Palacios. “We had always dreamt of meeting up overseas.”

Working closely with Soldiers who are examples of strong leadership has shown the two the type of leaders they want to be. Even after their service in the Army comes to a close in the future, the sisters still want to make a positive difference in the world. 

Duena wants to have a political career at the local level as an alderman for Chicago and Palacios wants to be in law enforcement in the city. They want to give back to their home town, to help those who can’t help themselves.

All of the years and miles from where they came from never separated the sisters from their home. The Army taught them what it means to serve the people and they constantly teach each other what it means to be loyal to your family. 

“What makes the Army is great leadership,” said Palacios. “And what makes great leadership is that you don’t forget where you came from.”

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