SAGAMI GENERAL DEPOT, Japan – Being a military brat, Spc. AnnaMarie Popoca became familiar with Army life at a young age.
She was born in Germany and her father’s career as an Army truck driver steered her family to Hawaii and other posts in the United States.
When it was time for her to map out her career, Popoca, 22, chose to follow in the tracks her father left behind.
In 2019, Popoca, who calls Killeen, Texas, her hometown, joined the Army as an 88N, or transportation management coordinator. In her role, she helps schedule and plan the movement of vehicles, personnel and cargo.
When Popoca’s father, who served over 20 years as an 88M, or motor transport operator, learned what his daughter was going to do in the Army, she said he joked that he was glad to be retired, so she couldn’t boss him around on the job.
“He was always supportive and he always had my back,” she said. “He didn’t really push the Army on me, but we did have some really long talks.”
Popoca, who is currently pursuing an associate’s degree, said her father advised her about the benefits of serving in the military, such as a steady income, free housing and education. Another big pull for her was the chance to travel more.
Her first duty station was to Japan, where she now serves with the 623rd Movement Control Team, which falls under the 35th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion.
As part of the job, Popoca assists with transporting equipment and personnel via port, air or rail operations in support of major exercises and missions in the region.
“We just make sure that they get to point A to point B, safe and secure, with no bumps in the road,” she said.
In her first temporary-duty assignment, Popoca was tasked to go to South Korea to help US Army rotational units come into the country.
“It was my first time [doing that], so it was a big deal for me,” she said. “It helped me learned what being an 88N was all about.”
Popoca later earned the Army Achievement Medal for her efforts during the operation.
She then helped with exercises, including Orient Shield, the largest annual bilateral field training exercise in Japan between the US Army and Japan Ground Self-Defense Force.
During the exercise, Popoca traveled to Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in southwestern Japan to conduct port operations and help move hundreds of pieces of equipment, including helicopters and vehicles.
“It was a lot of equipment with early mornings and long nights, but we got the job done,” she said.
Standing at 4 feet, 11 inches, Popoca may be the shortest Soldier during missions, but she has a “tiny but mighty” mindset, she said.
She tries to assist other Soldiers to be more resilient and overcome obstacles. A devout Catholic, she serves as the unit ministry representative to push out information from the chaplain’s office, but to also lend an attentive ear when a Soldier needs one.
“It makes me feel good to put myself out there for others,” she said.
Her supervisor, Sgt. Antonio Martin, who serves as a movement noncommissioned officer, said he has noticed her stand out from her peers.
“Most of the time you’ll see her leading the other group of specialists and below, instead of her hanging out and waiting for a direction,” he said. “She believes in everybody being the best that they can be.”
Martin said that Popoca also does not require direct supervision to complete a mission.
“She’s very determined when I give her a task,” he said. “I’m confident that if I give her a task and I need to leave for something, she will accomplish it. And if she doesn’t know how to, she will stay until she figures it out.”
With only three years in the Army, Popoca, who initially joined as an E-1, is now eyeing to add sergeant chevrons to her uniform. She plans to attend the promotion board this month.
She said she hopes to become a better leader by continually learning from her leadership. She also receives inspiration whenever she sees a woman in a senior military role.
“When we do see them, it’s a big deal for us,” she said of women leaders. “It just gives me the confidence I need to know that if they can do it, so can I.”
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