Mary Alamar Fernandez Young, who retired in December of 2011 after completing 50 consecutive years working for the Department of Air Force, was born in Devine, Texas. Alamar was the first child to Pete and Luisa Fernandez. Her sister, Alicia West, lives in Houston. Their brother, Arturo Fernandez, passed away in March 2015. Alamar has a son, Alan, and daughter, Debra, a son-in-law, Richard Gallardo, and two grandchildren, Alexandria and Ernest. All live in San Antonio, Texas.
In her first year of school, Alamar attended the Mexican American School in Devine, where Mexican American children were expected to attend for several years. Her first-grade teacher was Ms. Louise Woods, her all-time favorite teacher. Because her father taught Alamar to speak English as a first language, Ms. Woods transferred her to the Devine Elementary School; however, Ms. Woods kept in touch with Alamar, inviting her for tea every Christmas for many years.
Alamar graduated from DHS in 1960, and she went on to enjoy an illustrious career. But, she states, “The opportunities afforded this girl from small-town Devine, Texas, have been many.” Recalling those formative years, she shares that she grew up around extended wonderful family members and great neighbors. She loved spending time with her grandmother, Maria Moreno Fernandez, and visiting her Dad at Uncle George’s Garage. She was especially close to cousins Martin Fernandez, Soyla Campos Martinez, Ofelia Fernandez Olivares, and Dora Fernandez Shelton. Ofelia and Dora were her role models, and their successful jobs in the federal government would someday impact her own career. Alamar treasured going to Big Wells, Texas, to visit her maternal grandparents, Jose and Ursula Perez, and her aunts, uncles, and cousins. She also recalls fun times shared with her friends and cousins at The Spot.
Following graduation, Alamar began her career in August of 1960 as a temporary clerk typist, GS-3, in the Civil Engineering Division, Brooks Air Force Base (AFB). She rode on the Brooks float in the 1961 Fiesta parades. She recalls that an Air Force vehicle and military member picked her up in Devine every day during that week and took her and her escort to every Fiesta event in San Antonio.
Alamar met her first husband, Albert Young, who was stationed at Brooks. Their first child, Debra, was born a year later. In 1963, Albert was reassigned to Okinawa. On November 21, 1963, Alamar was in the audience when President John F. Kennedy dedicated the new Aerospace Medical Center; it was just a day before he was assassinated. A few days later, Alamar and Debra left Devine for Okinawa where she worked as a clerk stenographer in the Logistics Division at Naha Air Base until 1966. After Okinawa, they went to West Texas where she worked in the Supply Division at Webb AFB in Big Spring, Texas. Then, Alamar and Debra moved back to Devine when Albert was reassigned to a remote location at Kotzebue Air Force Station in Alaska. So, Alamar returned to work at Brooks AFB in the Base Command Section and later in the Command Section, USAF School of Aerospace Medicine (USAFSAM). In 1968, Alamar and Debra spent Thanksgiving in Kotzebue.
In 1983, Alamar worked for Colonel (Dr.) Roy DeHart, USAFSAM Commander, who encouraged her to volunteer to take on the additional duty of being a Federal Women’s Program Manager at Brooks. He paid for a week’s training in Dallas, Texas, and a trip to Andrews AFB, Maryland, for an Air Force personnel conference where she met Richard Ribera from Los Angeles, California. She states, “He would change my life and career forever.”
In 1985, Richard asked her to consider applying for the position he was in, as he was moving on to another opportunity. She successfully cross-trained into the personnel civilian career program, was promoted to GS-9, and was transferred to the Civilian Personnel Office at the Los Angeles AFB in El Segundo, California. On a side note, a week after she arrived, her new Toyota Cressida was stolen from her apartment building. “Welcome to LA,” she was told.
Alamar’s role was a Recruiter; but, she had additional duties as the Federal Women’s Program Manager and Hispanic Employment Program (HEP) Manager. During that time, she was recognized for helping women cross-train from the contracting series into professional occupations and mentored Hispanic students from El Camino College, Hawthorne, California. The recruitment and retention of Hispanic and White female candidates in Los Angeles had been extremely difficult; however, Alamar had some success, and that caught the attention of the Headquarters at the Pentagon. Thus, she was promoted to GS-12 and became a Supervisory Staffing and EEO Specialist. Alamar enjoyed her tour there and loved many things that LA offered and annual trips to the Napa Valley.
In 1990, Alamar married Fernando Rey – note Devine News Glimpse issue of October 30, 2019 – and they lived in Mission Viejo, California. That same year, she was selected as a Personnel Management Specialist in the Directorate of Personnel Policy at the Pentagon, GS-13, and they moved to Crystal City in Arlington, Virginia. They lived in the Crystal City Apartments building located one Metro stop from the Pentagon.
“This was the most exciting, difficult, and challenging job,” Alamar states. In addition to her extensive duties in personnel management, she was the AF HEP Manager and the American Indian/Alaskan Native Employment Program Manager. And, Alamar was the first Latina to hold the HEP position, following the steps of four former male HEP managers who urged the Headquarters to select her.
Alamar was proud to have worked in the Pentagon in the early 1990s when the Air Force was known for having the best personnel management program in the entire Federal government. She says that she learned from the very best civilian personnel managers and leaders, having worked with ten major commands and 90 AF installations. “It was a fast-paced environment with short-notice meetings with higher officials and crazy deadlines,” she says.
During those years at the Pentagon, Alamar’s achievements were numerous. She was a member of the AF evaluation team and the program manager for two AF instructions. She established the first Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities student intern program in the AF which required funding that she had to compete for. She was a founding member of the Defense Advisory Council on Hispanic Issues. She developed the Air Force Handbook for Special Emphasis Program (SEP) Managers that the Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute (DEOMI) at Patrick AFB, Florida, used as a model for their SEP handbook and she served as an adjunct DEOMI instructor. Alamar was recognized for initiating and nurturing mutually advantageous alliances between the AF and nationally recognized Hispanic, women and American Indian advocacy organizations. She served two terms on the national board of Federally Employed Women. She was instrumental in establishing the AF District of Washington mentor program with the Francis Hammond Junior High School, in Arlington, Virginia. In 1994 she was promoted to GS-14.
Her Pentagon job required Alamar to travel five months out of the year. She went to major cities and Air Force Bases across the US, as well as Hickam AFB, Hawaii; Yokota AFB, Japan; and Puerto Rico. Her work brought her frequently to the Air Force Personnel Center (AFPC) at Randolph AFB, and those trips allowed her to see her parents and children. But, as her parents aged, the return trips became very difficult.
Some highlights of the time Alamar spent at the Pentagon included meeting (at different times) and shaking the hands of General Colin Powell, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (the highest military position in the Department of Defense); Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense; and Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, Commander of Coalition Forces in Iraq. At the invitation of her friend, Dora Alcala, she rode a helicopter from the Pentagon Heliport to Andrews AFB, Maryland. On the way back to the Pentagon, the helicopter AF crew members gave them a great tour of Maryland, Washington, and Virginia.
At that time, Dora Alcala was the Air Force Deputy for Equal Opportunity with a Senior Executive rank and is the former mayor of Del Rio. Fernando and Alamar were privileged to have known and worked with several Congress members, including Loretta Sanchez (CA), Ileana Ross-Lehtinen (FL) and Charles Gonzalez (TX).
In 2004, Alamar requested and received a reassignment to AFPC at Randolph AFB where she worked as a Human Resources Specialist in the Civilian Field Activities. In 2007, she moved to the Equal Opportunity Operations Office. When she retired in December of 2011, her 50 consecutive years working for the Department of Air Force made her the longest serving Latina in the Air Force.
Throughout her illustrious career, Alamar received numerous performance and achievement awards, including the Air Force Meritorious Service Award and the Air Force Distinguished EEO Award. She received a Certificate of Recognition for Hispanic Employment, Office of Personnel Management, Washington, DC; the Managers’ Excellence Award, National Association of Hispanic Federal Executives, Inc.; Special Congressional Recognition Certificate, Congresswoman Grace Napolitano, Los Angeles, CA; Leadership Award for Hispanic Employment, SER-Jobs for Progress, Los Angeles, CA; Latina Style Magazine Award; Texas Governor’s Yellow Rose of Texas Award; DoD Certificates of Achievement for community work; and was honored by the 112th Congress of the United States that is now a part of the Congressional Record.
Reflecting on the highlights of that 50-year career, Alamar shares what she calls the best: “Brooks AFB and the School of Aerospace Medicine and the Pentagon. The engineers gave her the first job at Brooks and USAFSAM, which was a school for flight surgeons, nurses, and technicians. They conducted medical research and provided medical support for the initial US space operations. It was a one-of-a-kind operation with tremendously professional and talented civilian and military members. I was truly blessed to work there.”
And the worst: “September 11, 2001, when terrorists slammed into the Pentagon and I lost a good friend and Army colleague, Diana Padro, and another Army friend, Juan Cruz, who survived but was so severely burned that he was given the last rites on the grounds of the Pentagon. This tragic event made me realize that I had been gone too long from my family.”
When asked what she thinks of her long career, Alamar shares, “I have met leaders, heroes, and people from all walks of life. I have worked with the most talented, dedicated, and focused professionals that I know, and I am proud to have worked with each one. The opportunities afforded this girl from small-town Devine, Texas, have been many. I did not get to where I did without having to make some sacrifices and hard personal decisions. I had to work hard and long hours. I was lucky to have some great men and women who helped open doors for me. Along the way, my parents and children never complained, though I know my absence was hard on them. I will always be grateful for my family and my mentors.”