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!’”