Lt. Maria Villanueva, Port State Control Division Branch Chief, Sector Delaware Bay, is the Coast Guard’s recipient of the 2022 Federal Asian Pacific American Council (FAPAC) Uniformed Services Award. This honor recognizes military members who have made significant contributions to the advancement and promotion of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) within their respective services.
Growing up in Baguio City, Philippines, Villanueva notes her father as the person who motivated her towards military service and taught her various principles that sparked her desire to serve others.
“My dad inspired me to join the U.S. Coast Guard. He’s a proud, retired Army Sergeant First Class who served in the Vietnam War,” Villanueva said. “He also founded the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 124 in Baguio City, Philippines. He was committed to supporting and uplifting the members of his community and he instilled in me the values of service, humility, and hard-work,” she added.
Villanueva’s career in the Coast Guard is driven by these principles, as evident by the work she does to make the Service more inclusive to all. During the award period, Villanueva served as an enthusiastic advocate for fairness, equality, and diversity within the Coast Guard. She served on both local and national diversity inclusion organizations in leadership roles including the Vice Chair of FORCECOM’s Leadership and Diversity Advisory Council (LDAC) and Executive Secretary of the Coast Guard’s chapter of FAPAC, a nationwide chapter.
Her dedication to the Coast Guard’s AAPI workforce is rooted in her own, early experiences in the service.
“When I enlisted at the age of 17, I had a strong Filipino accent and I felt so different and insecure,” said Villanueva. I had a phenomenal group of AAPI mentors (Adm. Joseph Vojvodich, Capt. Michael Sharpe, Cdr. Jocelyn Soriano, and Lt. Frank Lim) who saw my potential and poured tremendous trust in my abilities and they also encouraged me to continue giving back.”
The connections that Villanueva built among her AAPI peers and mentors, and her experiences serving within the Coast Guard, helped her develop a deeper sense of appreciation for her Filipino heritage.
“Even if I came from a different country, the Coast Guard and its members helped me be my authentic self, encouraging me to be proud of where I’m from, my accent, and the things that I bring to the table that are unique because of my heritage—not despite it.”
Through her actions, Villanueva wants to provide the same support for other, new Coast Guard members who may be going through the same experiences that she went through.
“Receiving this award is a reminder to keep advancing forward and to do more for our community. All of my actions are done not to be recognized, but I genuinely saw how beneficial they can be for the Coast Guard, its people, and the community I belong,” Villanueva said. “My hope is that those interactions provide a positive and lasting impression that hopefully breaks negative stereotypes and biases against AAPIs,” she added. “I want to ensure our community remains heard and to continue building relationships through active mentorship and training.”
Civil Rights awards like the FAPAC Uniformed Services Award helps to maximize the Coast Guard’s overall mission effectiveness through recognition of members’ accomplishments and contributions to Civil Rights and Equal Opportunity in minority communities and Partnership in Education (PIE) programs. For more information, please contact Juan Torres.
The FAPAC-USCG Chapter is a non-profit organization and Coast Guard affinity group dedicated to the AAPI workforce and community. You can visit uscgfapac.org and join the growing FAPAC-USCG community.