When Medina Ayala-Lo made the choice to take a 10-minute walk in 2013, she never imagined that small stroll would put her on a path that would forever change her life.
The walk was to the recruiting office for the United States Marines Corps, down the street from her high school in Brooklyn, N.Y.
“I think my motivation for joining the military came down to practicality,” said Ayala-Lo, who admitted that she wasn’t the best student. “I knew my mom couldn’t afford college and there wouldn’t be any scholarships, so I had to make a plan to do something with my life.”
Ayala-Lo credits her mother, a single parent, with laying the foundation for she and her twin sister to grasp the importance of doing something meaningful with their lives.
“My mom is very educated and accomplished, and I think that’s why she wanted us to pursue a similar path,” Ayala-Lo continued. “Although she grew up in less-than-ideal circumstances, she made the most of the opportunities she received, worked hard, and eventually earned degrees in law and later, education.”
After Ayala-Lo chose to join the service, she set her sights on becoming a combat correspondent (journalist), even though when she asked about details, all she was told was that her role would be like Pvt. Joker in Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket.
Ayala-Lo served five years in the Marines, all at Twentynine Palms, Calif., and although she admitted her experience was not as diverse as most Marines, she took advantage of every opportunity afforded to her.
“I realized then the importance of contributing to a team and being part of something bigger than myself,” said Ayala-Lo. “My shop was great, and I was surrounded by good people who made the experience rewarding.”
You can check out some of the moments she caught that added to the legacy of the Marine Corpse here.
Five years into her career, at the rank of sergeant, she made the choice to leave the service.
“I was so grateful for what the Marine Corps gave me, but I was young and wanted to have the ability to pursue other ventures,” continued Ayala-Lo. “When you are in uniform, you’re a Marine first, and there is nothing wrong with that however, I wanted to pursue a life outside of the Corps.”
As she prepared to depart, Ayala-Lo said her first thought was two words. Instead, she got two letters.
“I remember telling myself gainfully employed,” recalled Ayala-Lo. “I definitely got that, but I never imagined I’d be hired to work at VA!”
In 2019, Ayala-Lo was hired as a public affairs specialist with the West Los Angeles VA Medical Center. Just like any job – in or out of uniform – Ayala-Lo faced challenges, but leaning on lessons from the Marines, she realized the importance of doing for others.
“Despite all the challenges, you can always find yourself fulfilled and rewarded at VA,” said Ayala-Lo. “We serve those who served, it’s easy to support that.”
Three years later, Ayala-Lo made the choice to head east and extend her VA service as part of Bay Pines VA Healthcare System. She says her successes thus far are a byproduct of the life-long support from her mother and her time in uniform.
“I am an amalgamation of all the good I have received, and I feel very grateful,” continued Ayala-Lo. “Without my mom and without the Corps, I wouldn’t be in the place I am today.”
The former NCO admitted that while she doesn’t wear the uniform anymore, she carries the lessons learned from that time and uses those to impact her service for VA.
“Being a Marine Corps Veteran means I must try my best to show others the best version of myself in everything I do,” said Ayala-Lo. “I know that’s what I owe to those who have been there for me. I take pride in serving those who served us all.”