TriWest Celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month with Employees’ Unique Stories

Phoenix, AZ (September 21, 2022) – Each year, from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, TriWest Healthcare Alliance (TriWest) celebrates National Hispanic Heritage Month, honoring the unique histories, cultures and contributions of Hispanic and Latino Americans whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America.

As a company with a commitment to hire a diverse workforce, TriWest employs many Hispanic Americans from military backgrounds to help fulfill our mission to serve Veterans by connecting them to convenient, quality health care.

According to a Department of Defense (DoD) 2020 Demographics Report, more than 17% of active duty service members are Hispanic or Latino, making it the fastest growing population in the military.

Today, the growing number of Hispanic or Latino Americans among our active duty and Veteran populations makes it especially important to recognize the contributions Hispanic Americans have made to our nation, and to appreciate the diversity present in our military.

In recognition of Hispanic Heritage Month, three of our Veteran employees share their Hispanic and Latino Heritage stories, offering unique cultural backgrounds and sharing a love of the nation, a strong work ethic, and pride in continued service for Veterans.

Phillip Trujillo, U.S. Marine Corps Veteran and TriWest IT Support Manager

Phillip Trujillo, an IT Support Manager with TriWest at Phoenix Corporate, was born in Colorado in 1973 and his early years were filled with hardship. He lost his father, a coal miner, when he was only 6 years old, and his mother worked multiple jobs to support her family. After moving to Phoenix, Ariz., Phillip struggled to fit in and dealt with childhood bullying.

"It made me stronger and drove me to make something of my life," Phillip said. "I wanted to prove that just because I didn't fit the norm, had a single mother and was Hispanic, I could still make a difference in the world. It was then I made the decision to join the Marines," he added.

Phillip's grandfather was a U.S. Marine who served in Korea. He always respected his grandfather's service and decided that in order to make an impact, he would follow in his footsteps.

"I wanted that feeling, that accomplishment," he said. Phillip graduated from Marine Corps Recruit Training in 1991 and deployed for the first time as part of Operation Restore Hope Somalia. A year later, he traveled to Okinawa, Japan.

"On this deployment, I had the privilege and honor of being part of the 50th Anniversary of Iwo Jima," Phillip said. He walked with World War II Marines on two Iwo Jima beaches that saw intense fighting, hearing stories of great loss and great accomplishment.

"This time will forever be a part of my life," he said. "These experiences are what being a Marine is all about."

In 1995, Phillip left active duty as a Corporal but looking back on his time serving, he believes deeply in the expression all Marines know: "We are the few, the proud."

His service as a Marine instilled in him traits such as integrity, dependability and initiative. "I use these traits and skills to help guide my life, my career and my family life," he emphasized.

Phillip has worked at TriWest for seven years as an IT Support Manager, but he is also a Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and TriWest patient.

"I fully understand the need for what TriWest does for Veterans," he said. "There is a pride across the TriWest family that starts with our CEO, Dave McIntyre, and funnels all the way down through the employee base," he said.

On the celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, Phillip believes it is important to value the backgrounds and the contributions of Hispanic and Latinos to the nation.

"I feel it's important to support one another, to stand as one," he said. "This month brings our heritage to others, educates others on the struggles we face in this country, and shows that we have made an impact on the world," he added.

While TriWest highlights individual contributions of Veteran employees like Phillip, he views his service as contributing to a purpose larger than himself.

"In the end, we are all one," he emphasized. "We protected our country together, we fought alongside one another, as one force."

Jennifer Lares, U.S. Navy Veteran and Claims Escalation Representative

Jennifer Lares, a TriWest Claims Escalation Representative, was also inspired by her family to serve in the military and shares Phillip's work ethic and pride for her background and military service. Now living in El Paso, Texas, Jennifer spent most of her childhood in Clint, Texas, where she was raised by her mother, who was born in El Paso, and her father who was born in Chihuahua, Mexico.

"I grew up playing outside until evening, riding bikes, building forts and swimming in irrigation ditches," she said.

As the oldest child Jennifer accepted a lot of responsibility, got her first job in high school, and took education seriously. As graduation approached she leaned toward leaving for college, but her mother's story made an impact on as well.

"My mom always wanted to venture out and take a different path but was not allowed to once she graduated," Jennifer said. "My mom's family believed the military was only for males and did not support her decision," she said.

Fortunately, Jennifer's family did support her decision to serve and she dove headfirst into U.S. Navy Recruit Training, an experience she'll never forget.

"Diving into something that I was not fully prepared for has always helped me keep going when my path hits an obstacle," she emphasized.

Jennifer served 14 years in the Navy, reaching the rank of Second Class Petty Officer and deploying to places such as Guam, Japan and South Korea. During her service, Jennifer learned a lot about remaining versatile.

"No matter what the day throws at you, you always stay the course and finish the race," she said.

Her service also fostered her appreciation of the diversity in the military. "I have had the pleasure of working and interacting with individuals from many different backgrounds," she emphasized.

Now at TriWest, Jennifer works to take care of her Veteran brothers and sisters just like she would take care of family. "My work is important to me because it deals with the health and well-being of individuals who have sacrificed so much for all the freedoms we have today," she said.

For Hispanic Heritage Month, Jennifer celebrates the time when "our culture can share and display all of its beautiful people, food and customs."

Jennifer also loves to educate her children and future generations about the Hispanic culture and history.

"We welcome change, accept any challenge, and never forget our beginnings. I believe Hispanics in the military have changed the viewpoint of many parents who are no longer hesitant to support their sons and daughters in the military," she said.

Joe Gardiner-Sanchez, U.S. Army Veteran and Training Specialist

Joe Gardiner-Sanchez, a TriWest Training Specialist with Phoenix Corporate, also has a family connection to the military, as well as a strong desire to serve others. Born and raised in Panama until he was 12, his father, a U.S. Army and Marine Corps Veteran, was later stationed in the U.S.

"My dad was a big reason I joined," he said, referring to his own military service. "I wanted to serve our country as well. Having a Hispanic background and a very family-oriented mindset fits well with the military and its values," he added.

Joe served in the Army nearly 17 years, reaching the rank of Sergeant, until he was honorably discharged due to medical reasons. His service featured numerous deployments including Operation Desert Storm, Iraq, Bosnia, Kuwait, and more, learning many important lessons.

"I learned a lot about respect for everyone, pride in my country, and a sense of duty to others," he said.

Joe also took seriously the values of self-discipline, honor and integrity. "To this day, no matter how old someone may be, I address them as 'Sir' or 'Ma'am' because it's a sign of respect to me," he said.

Along with those lessons, Joe also has some difficult service memories he still deals with today. Diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), he said he struggles with memories of the "ugliness of war, combat, and the lack of respect for human life from others."

Today, Joe channels his energies into the work he does now on behalf of other Veterans. "I joined the TriWest team because of what TriWest does for our military and its Veterans," he said.

"The leadership and team members are dedicated to serving our Veterans. As a trainer and as a Veteran that uses the programs and benefits, I take pride in training our employees and instilling that pride in them," he emphasized.

Working at TriWest, Joe sees celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month as an opportunity to educate others about his Panamanian heritage and his native country.

"I really don't need a month to carry that pride, but for others who are not Hispanic, it's a time to learn about other countries of Hispanic descent," he said.

However, Joe emphasizes our connectedness, too.

"We may have pride in our Hispanic heritage, but we also have pride in being American just as much. Being Hispanic and being able to serve our country is truly an honor."

In these three unique TriWest employees, similar themes of determination, grit, love of their Hispanic heritage, and a strong sense of pride in our nation run through their stories. TriWest thanks these honored Veterans for sharing their experiences and for their continued work on behalf of our nation's valued Veterans.