Navy veteran Maria Gardea traveled to many far-flung places in her armed services career, managing logistics and purchasing for the Navy around the U.S. and in Spain, Italy, Puerto Rico, and Kuwait. Though she’s retired from the military now, she still keeps her hand in by volunteering for veteran service organizations and has steadily been working towards a degree in transportation, distribution and logistics.

The Lane Tech High School grad first enlisted in 1989 after having tried a semester of college at City Colleges of Chicago’s Wright College. After 22 years with the Navy she returned to Chicago for a job with the Veterans Administration and to begin working towards an associate degree at Olive-Harvey College. Her day job with the VA restricts her to night classes at Olive-Harvey, but she is determined to complete her degree and move on to either DePaul University or Illinois Institute of Technology for her bachelor’s.

In the meantime, she is active in the development of a Chicago chapter of “Soldiers Who Salsa” – a veterans’ service organization that helps severely wounded, ill and injured service members who are receiving treatment and therapy. Through dance training, the veterans are helped with balance, coordination, memory and multi-function activities. With chapters in California and Maryland, Maria is playing a significant role in bringing “Soldiers Who Salsa” to Illinois through fundraisers and planning sessions.

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