By Lt. Col. Ralph Gracia
GAINESVILLE — Second Lieutenant Charlene Gracia graduated from the University of Florida with a major in Psychology and minor in Aerospace Leadership. Lt Gracia was commissioned by her father, Lt Colonel Ralph Gracia during the commissioning ceremony. Ralph did the honors of reading the oath and after, both parents pinned on the rank. Their sons Ralph and Erin assisted by placing the second lieutenant rank on her service cap. Charlene’s first unit assignment is to Vandenberg Air force Base in California.
In 2004 Mr. James Dwight had a vision to have the school become co-educational after 40 years. His inspiration came through my lovely daughter Charlene during a hurricane evacuation at Admiral Farragut Academy in St. Petersburg. My daughter was the only female student among the male cadets. She was playing basketball with them. Mr. Dwight glanced over and said to me that she didn’t look to intimidated by the other cadets. Jamie went on to say, “I would love to explore the possibility of adding a female population to the academy.” I thought at the time it was brilliant and shared with him where to start. He looked at me with excitement and asked me to share his idea with Charlene, wow! I did not know where to start, but asked Charlene the bolded question. “Do you like the military uniform?” She replied “yes.” My second question was more profound and direct. “Do you want to be a part of FAA?” She looked at me with eyes of disbelief. I said to her, it is your decision, not mine. The next day, she answered “yes Dad!” I briefed Mr. Dwight the following day and in 2005 his dream came true…Priceless! Charlene was one of 45 young ladies to start that year. She was so proud; no words could ever describe it. In 2009 Charlene was the top student, graduating No. 1 in her class and receiving an Air Force ROTC Scholarship to the University of Florida. This month Charlene graduated and was commissioned as a second lieutenant. A proud “Lady Falcon” indeed! I would be remiss if I did not mention my two extraordinary sons, Ralph and Erin. Ralph will graduate in 2013 and Erin in 2014. They have also benefited from this fantastic journey, education and learning experience.
I must say, beyond the duties and responsibilities of the AFJROTC mission, I will carry the beautiful memories I’ve treasured at FAA. Today all that I am, all I that I have become, is due to my immediate family…I am truly blessed!