By Marcie Smith West
Jadine Lujan has always lived a life of service. From a young age, her parents and Chamorro heritage – the indigenous people of the Mariana Islands, including Lujan’s home of the island of Guam – taught her to value her community and look for opportunities to serve her neighbors. It was this commitment to service that inspired her to pursue volunteering, and later working for the USO. She is proud to work for the USO and even prouder that USO staff and volunteers are often a reflection of the men and women currently serving in the military.
One of those men that served was Lujan’s father. Lujan lights up when she talks about her dad, who served in the U.S. Army. Her father was proud of his service and carried his Army name tag with his work credentials everywhere he went. Lujan was incredibly close with her father as a child and was always by his side, until his sudden passing when she was four years old. From then on, Lujan dreamt of one day following in her father’s footsteps and serving in the military – little did she know that she would support our nation’s Armed Forces in another way.
A Lifetime of Giving Back
Despite numerous challenges throughout her life, Lujan is an unfailingly positive person who is always ready to give back to those in her community.
This lifetime of service began at a young age. Lujan left Guam to attend college in upstate New York, but the brutally cold winters proved to be too extreme after growing up on a tropical island and so she moved further south to Connecticut, where she began working at the Mohegan Sun Casino. Here, Lujan finally began to feel settled. She loved her job and was pursuing her career goals. She had come out to her mother, had a serious girlfriend and planned to settle down in Connecticut. Then, suddenly, all her plans changed when her mother passed away – and Lujan was needed back home in Guam.
Although it was difficult to leave her job and life in Connecticut, Lujan quickly moved back to Guam to care for her siblings, who were still teenagers at the time. As she settled back into her life in Guam, Lujan began searching for volunteer opportunities to give back to her community; one of those opportunities led to her first job with the USO in 2013. Just four years later, she was named the first USO Center Manager for USO Andersen.
Lujan’s commitment to service was evident from her first day with the USO. More than one of her colleagues said she makes their lives easier, and they consider her a mentor.
“The word ‘no’ isn’t in her vocabulary,” said USO Guam Area Director Leigh Graham. “She always finds a way to get things done.”
One example of this was in 2015, when Lujan and Ed Lebita, current USO senior center manager at Naval Base Guam, were tasked with supporting a group of Marines stopping in Guam while in transit to Okinawa, Japan. The detour was unplanned, leaving the Marines without food or lodging. Lujan and Lebita quickly organized meals and a place for them to stay and then waited for several hours for the plane to arrive. Finally, the Marines arrived at midnight, and they were enthusiastically welcomed by Lujan with the traditional Chamorro greeting “Hafa Adai,” before being escorted to their accommodations.
While sharing a meal with a few of the Marines late into the night, Lujan learned that some Marines from the group were still standing guard at the plane, and so she immediately packed up some warm meals and later delivered them to the flight line. Lujan and Lebita did not leave Andersen Air Force Base until 2 a.m., but despite the late hour, the two USO employees were excited that they could serve these Marines in need.
By now, Lujan had accepted that her childhood dream of following in her father’s footsteps and serving in the military was not in her future, but she was still determined to directly support those serving on the front lines. And so, in 2019, she accepted a job with the USO in Southwest Asia – also known as the Middle East.
She and her wife Lauryn had not even reached their first wedding anniversary when Lujan accepted her new USO center manager job in Kuwait, but both understood how important it was to Lujan to give back by working boots-on-the-ground with deployed service members. Although not the same as a deployment, Lujan and her wife were suddenly faced with a similar situation of separation, spending a whole year apart.
The COVID-19 pandemic cut Lujan’s time in Southwest Asia short, and soon she returned to her home in Guam, where she once again began working at USO Guam, this time as an area operations manager.
Now back in Guam, Lujan and her wife have settled back into their life together and on the island. In the end, despite not pursuing a military career herself, Lujan still followed in her father’s footsteps by dedicating her life to serving others.
-This story was originally published on USO.org in 2021. It has been updated in 2022.
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