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Gunnery Sgt. Yolanda E. Ayala, an intelligence chief with 1st Law Enforcement Battalion, works at her desk aboard Camp Pendleton, Calif., April 2. Ayala was selected as the Navy League 2014 Senior Enlisted Woman of the Year.

Photo by Lance Cpl. Caitlin Bevel

Marine wins woman of the year

3 Apr 2014 | Lance Cpl. Caitlin Bevel

A Marine with 1st Law Enforcement Battalion was recently named the Navy League 2014 Senior Enlisted Woman of the Year.

Gunnery Sgt. Yolanda E. Ayala, originally from Lima, Peru, was selected out of a group of more than 40 nominees for the award.

Ayala said her mother, children, and Marine husband are the reason behind her military success.

“My mentor is my husband. My support is the family,” Ayala said. “They allow me to show the flexibility and the commitment more than I could if I were by myself.”

She and her husband, 1st Sgt. Josue Ayala, have been together since they were both privates first class. She said that he has been an invaluable resource.

“I have a successful career along with my husband,” Ayala said. “I think the key is that we both look at the positive no matter what is going on.”

Originally, Ayala hadn’t planned to stay in the Marine Corps. She was going to use the military as a steppingstone into college.  When her first contract ended she didn’t reenlist, however, after the terrorist attacks on 9/11, she was recalled back to active duty.

“I had a child by then, and she was just born, so I was worried about how I [was] going to do my best and maintain my family” said Ayala. “When I got recalled it was kind of like a challenge to keep both titles, but I didn’t have the guts to say no.”

Once she made the decision to tackle her military career again, she didn’t hold anything back.

Ayala said she lives her life with no regrets. She does not dwell on what she could have or should have accomplished but what she has already accomplished.

Her dedication and skill led her to excel and gain the respect of her co-workers and fellow Marines. 

“Beyond the fact that she’s driven, I think one of the things that impresses me the most is that regardless of age, rank, time in service or gender, she treats every Marine as a Marine,” said 1st Sgt. David McKinley, the company first sergeant
 of Headquarters and Support Company. “Everybody always says nice things about people, but the reality is she actually exudes those qualities that we’re looking for.”

Even with all of the respect she had earned from her peers and coworkers, she was still surprised when she was named the Navy League Senior Enlisted Woman of the Year.

“There were 43 senior enlisted, and I never thought that I was going to be the winner for this award,” Ayala said. “I’m still shocked.”

Even when all eyes were on her in recognition of her accomplishments, Ayala displayed her selfless nature by recognizing the other nominees.

“The thing I love about this award is that before they even announced the winner, every single female that was nominated gets called by name,” said Ayala. “That was really important because you get to see how many are out there that are outstanding.”

Selflessness is a trait  the Marine Corps considers essential for good leadership. Ayala’s leaders said she has embraced those lessons.

“Every gunny I’ve had, they all grasp the core values and … they all grasp those leadership skills,” said Capt. Thayne Stiefvater, the intelligence section officer in charge. “She just embodies them kind of in a unique way.”

Ayala’s selflessness, dedication, and the support of her family helped set her apart from her peers.

“Probably one of the top gunnery sergeants I’ve worked with from initial impression until now,” said Mckinley.