FORT LEE, Va. – “No one believed me,” Erica L. Esqueda recalled about her decision to join the Army.

Family and friends thought of her as a “girlie girl.” The San Antonio beautician was never without the latest fashion, hair and nails. It made it hard to fathom the idea of her trading designer apparel for Army camouflage patterns.

One of her longtime salon customers – an older Italian lady who often talked with her hands – belted out one of her usual boisterous, up-from-the-belly cackles as Esqueda shared her Soldierly ambitions.

“Oh, Erica, you’re so funny” the woman chided between heaving laughs. “I said, ‘No, I’m really being serious.’ She goes, ‘No you’re not!’”

Yes, she was.

Shredding the image of her signature girlishness, Esqueda embraced the grit and grind of basic combat training, graduating earlier this year. The 37-year-old then tackled the Ordnance School’s 91B Wheeled Vehicle Mechanic Course at Fort Lee, completing the 13-week program of instruction Sept. 27.

Next in her initial entry journey, Esqueda is scheduled to take a shot at jumping out of planes and earning the coveted Parachutist Badge prior to taking a permanent party assignment at Fort Bragg, N.C. She shrugs off her lofty ambitions as though they have always existed.

“I really don’t mind getting my hands dirty,” said the wife and mother of two sons.