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By Luis Delgadillo
DCMA Western Region Public Affairs
During a farewell party just before his third overseas deployment in 2013, one of Army Command Sgt. Maj. Ronald Cabrera’s close relatives gave him something that helped him reflect on his military service.
“My aunt Judy gave me a letter that I sent her in about 1966. The letter consisted of sketches of planes, tanks and Soldiers,” he said.
For Cabrera, seeing the letter from his 4 year-old self made him realize the military had always been his destiny. Today, it is a destiny fulfilled.
Cabrera, who now works as the region contingency planner for Defense Contract Management Agency’s Western Regional Command, retired from the California Army National Guard Nov. 11th. He’s parlayed his 40 years of experience in uniform into his current role.
As a senior enlisted leader, Cabrera was affable, professional and a vigilant public servant. Now, mission assurance is his mantra. He is responsible for the regional continuity of operations plan, he supports the development of the region headquarters’ occupant emergency plan and is constantly monitoring emergencies in the west through civilian and military sources.
“I see it as ‘here I am, a command sergeant major,’ thinking ahead, assessing the events and being ready to notify people,” he said.
Cabrera had one of his most-active years in 2020. He not only stayed busy reporting agency specific COVID-19 pandemic statistics and tracking evacuees during fire emergencies for DCMA, but he was also briefly activated with the California Army National Guard supporting the Los Angeles area civil unrest.
Every aspect of Cabrera’s work has centered on caring for people. “Take care of your troops and they will take care of you getting the mission done,” he said.
Cabrera was raised in a melting pot of cultural diversity, the greater Los Angeles area of the 1960s and 70s. He grew up in a typical family-oriented environment along with his aunt, uncles and cousins. This normalcy was thrown into a tail-spin for Cabrera at the age of eight when his father passed away. By the time he reached high school he said he was eager for a way to establish his own identity. The tradition of military service was already present in his family, but it was his own self-reflection that nudged him into the Marine Corps. He said he wanted to challenge himself with the toughest military boot camp.
Cabrera said becoming a Marine was a major life accomplishment, but his most memorable achievement while in the Marines was earning his Marine air crewman badge. Even before he took his first-ever flight, going from boot camp in San Diego to his first assignment for training in Tennessee, Cabrera said his love for aviation was well established.
“I was a Huey and Cobra guy and that’s where I started in the Marines. As a mechanic, I wanted to earn my wings,” he said. “It was no easy endeavor for me. You had to pass a series of exams, complete a check-ride, and pass swim qualification.”
With this major life goal fulfilled, Cabrera figured he’d try his hand at civilian life. He left active duty in the Marines, but he didn’t want to completely leave military life behind. Cognizant of the value of being in the military, Cabrera decided to maintain his affiliation by becoming a citizen soldier.
Cabrera transitioned to Army aviation with a brief stint in the California Army National Guard in 1985. He then joined the Army Reserve in 1986 when he pursued dual-status employment, which meant that he had to join the Army Reserve in order to work as a civilian servicing military aircraft.
By 1989, Cabrera noticed that many of his fellow mechanics were getting different jobs.
“My fellow helicopter mechanics began leaving for what was called the Defense Contract Administrative Service back in the day,” said Cabrera referring to a precursor to DCMA.
Cabreras’s expertise and passion for military aviation paid dividends when he was selected for a position with DCAS as a quality assurance specialist in October of the same year. “It was a benefit to go from being a technician, a UH-1N Huey mechanic to DCAS, because I was already familiar with measuring devices and inspections,” said Cabrera.
“It gave me a sense of value being on the contract-oversight side because some of the components I looked at as a quality assurance specialist were what I had previously installed on aircraft,” he said. “It was one of the best decisions I ever made.”
During his time with DCAS Cabrera transitioned from the quality assurance field to the contracts trainee program, becoming a contract administrator from 1997-2008. Both career tracts had their benefits but by 2018 a new opportunity came in to view.
Cabrera hung up his quality assurance cap in 2018 when he began his current role as the region contingency planner.
As far as his military career progression, he returned to the ARNG in 1996 and never looked back.
“Before working toward my last rank of command sergeant major, we had a family discussion of dad's time away from home,” he said. “My family was onboard all the way through.”
Such dedication to a military or civilian career often comes with the blessing of strong family support. “I could not have achieved the pinnacle of the noncommissioned officer corps without the unconditional support of my family.”
In more than 33 years of marriage, Cabrera’s wife Linda has helped her husband raise their daughters and son, and has guided her family through three of his military deployments. She credits prayer, a close connection with God, family ties, good friends and a strong connection to Army family readiness groups. “It helps to have camaraderie with other women and families,” she said.
Linda, like her husband, had family who served in the military but it wasn’t until she met her husband that she became fully immersed in the military community.
“I see when we go places, especially any kind of military event that he's respected and admired and that feels good,” said Linda. “I'm grateful because I see his dedication.”
With her husband’s career goals complete, she said their attention has shifted a little more toward the military career of their son. Cabrera said his son grew up being exposed to all branches of the service, but they left it up to him to decide, which to join.
“It was a proud moment to see my son earn the title of a Marine,” he said.
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