Five Utah sisters take five different military paths
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Tiara Puro was 17 years old when her father handed her a recruiting brochure for the Utah Army National Guard. She remembered a feeling of excitement as she flipped through the pamphlet, especially when she read about the education benefits. She had been trying to figure out a way to pay for college and the Utah National Guard was offering the equivalent of a full-ride scholarship for six years of service.
“When I enlisted, it was peacetime,” Tiara said. “There was nothing going on, and it was actually why I felt so comfortable agreeing to enlist. What’s six years of enlistment during peacetime, especially if I get a college degree out of it?”
Tiara enlisted in 1999 as a paralegal specialist. Once a month, she drove to the armory in Vernal to train with the 1457th Engineer Battalion as part of the Delayed Entry Program, until she finished high school. A week after graduating from high school, she shipped to Basic Combat Training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina.
Tiara is the oldest of five sisters. Her four younger sisters are Tambra, Tayva, and the twins, Taryn and Ty’ lene. They all grew up in Roosevelt and graduated from Union High School. Their parents met on the University of Utah ballroom dance team. All five sisters grew up singing and dancing. Four of the five sisters have placed in the Miss Duchesne County and Miss Uintah Basin pageants.
While large, musically inclined families are not uncommon in Utah, the Puro sisters are unique in that they are all currently serving in the military, with decorated careers spanning the Army, Air Force, and Navy.
“I don’t think anyone of us thought that we would serve in the military,” Tiara said.
Tambra was 14 years old and a freshman in high school when Tiara left for basic. “It was a little scary, a little nerve-racking to think about her going off and doing all those things,” Tambra recalled. “But I just thought, wow, that’s pretty awesome.”
A few months later, Tiara returned from Basic Combat Training. The experience had changed her.
“I came home super excited about being in the military and what that meant,” Tiara said.
As she described the experience to her family, Tambra thought, “That will never happen in my life. It’s not something I’m interested in. Who wants to be yelled at by drill sergeants and do push-ups? I can’t even do a push-up, let alone pass a PT test. So, no thank you. I’ll do something else.”
Even at 12 years old, Tambra knew she wanted to do something important with her life.
“At the time, I was really interested in being a nurse, so I went and asked the hospital if I could volunteer.”
She was the youngest volunteer the hospital had ever seen. She formed a group of young hospital volunteers called the Junior Pink Ladies. As a sophomore in high school, she started working on her Associate of Science Degree in Pre-Health Sciences.
“Caring for others is a common thread in my life,” Tambra said. “That’s really what I’m passionate about.”
On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, Tiara was at the University of Utah, enjoying her education benefits. She didn’t have class until later in the day and decided to sleep in. She woke up to the phone ringing. Her dad was on the other end of the line. He said, “You need to turn on your TV.”
Tiara was confused. “What are you talking about?”
He said, “Don’t ask any questions. Just turn on the TV.”
Something in his tone had unsettled her. She went into the living room of her college apartment and switched on the TV. She watched the second plane collide with the south tower of the World Trade Center.
“I knew in that moment my life would never be the same,” she said.
Tiara told her dad she loved him, but she needed to go. She hung up and immediately called her unit to know what she could do to help.
The 2002 Winter Olympics came only a few short months after 9/11. Approximately 2,400 athletes from more than 80 different countries and even more spectators were headed to Utah. Under the looming shadow of terrorism, the burden of law enforcement augmentation fell to the Utah National Guard. Some 4,500 Guard members were called up to provide security for the Games, and Tiara was among them.
Tambra was a high school senior on the first anniversary of 9/11. “I woke up that morning, turned on the TV and President Bush was giving a speech,” she said.
The Statue of Liberty stood over President George W. Bush’s right shoulder as he addressed the crowd and the cameras in the New York harbor: “September 11, 2001, will always be a fixed point in the life of America,” he said. “The loss of so many lives left us to examine our own. Each of us was reminded that we are here only for a time. And these counted days should be filled with things that last and matter: love for our families, love for our neighbors and for our country, gratitude for life and to the giver of life.”
His words caused Tambra to reflect. She listened to the speech as she was getting ready for school and thought to herself, “Where am I going in life? How will I pay for things? What’s my next step, my next move?”
“For members of our military,” Bush continued, “it’s been a year of sacrifice and service far from home.”
Tambra immediately reflected on her own sister’s sacrifice and service.
“Our generation has now heard history’s call, and we will answer it,” Bush declared. “In the ruins of two towers, under a flag unfurled at the Pentagon, at the funerals of the lost, we have made a sacred promise to ourselves and to the world: We will not relent until justice is done and our nation is secure.”
In that moment, Tambra was inspired to say to herself, “That’s what I want to do. Tiara did it, I think I can do it. I’m not very aggressive, I don’t do those physical things, but I can try.”
The same recruiter who worked with Tiara three years earlier happened to see Tambra at school that day and asked, “Have you given it any thought?”
“Well, actually, yes I have,” she replied.
Two weeks later, on Oct. 1, Tambra enlisted in the Army National Guard to be an administrative specialist, assigned to the same unit as her sister. She was sworn in by Lt. Col. Jeff Burton, who was then the commander of the 1457th Engineer Battalion.
“I really wanted to be a combat medic,” Tambra explained. “But I also really wanted to start college as soon as possible. I didn’t want to postpone college, so I chose a shorter occupational school.”
At the time, the Utah National Guard offered an orientation course called Non-Prior Service Support which helped prepare future Soldiers for Basic Combat Training. The course was conducted by a retired Marine drill instructor and designed to be physically grueling. Today, this same program has been expanded into the Recruit Sustainment Program.
“It just about killed me,” Tambra recalled. “I couldn’t sit up on my own for two full weeks.”
Realizing she had a lot of work to do, she started doing push-ups and sit-ups and went running every single day until she graduated high school. She was headed to Fort Jackson in March 2003.
“Basic training is still one of the highlights of my career,” Tambra said.
Around that same time, Tiara was sitting in her Readiness NCO’s office when a mobilization order came in for their unit, the 1457th Engineer Battalion.
“In the Guard, we’re always ready,” Tiara said. “We’re always exercising and training, so we were ready when the call came.”
In April of 2003, Tiara and the rest of the 1457th were headed to Iraq while Tambra was in the middle of basic training.
“The training felt very real to me,” Tambra said. “Because my sister was already in Iraq.”
Tambra would see newspapers in display cases outside the dining facility where she ate each day, headlining the toppled Saddam Hussein statue. As she donned her gas mask and entered the gas chambers, she imagined Hussein’s chemical attacks on innocent civilians and thought “Wow. This is why we do what we do.”
When Tambra returned home from basic training, she immediately enrolled in Utah Valley State College using her new military education benefits and joined the Reserve Officer Training Corps. Even before enlistment, she had considered becoming an officer but wanted the added experience of basic training.
“You already have a degree,” as Tiara had pointed out. “Go Army and go, officer.”
Tambra contracted in the Fall of 2003, and graduated in the Spring of 2005, with an Integrated Studies degree in Community Health and Military Science. She was assigned to the 144th Area Support Medical Company as a medical services officer. As soon as she finished Officer Basic Course, today known as the Basic Officer Leader Course, she was headed to Fort Bliss, Texas, where her new unit was preparing to deploy to Iraq.
Tiara had returned from her own deployment during this time and decided to reenlist, but now in the Utah Air National Guard as a personnel specialist.
“I loved working with the Guard. Loved what I was doing. But I felt like I needed something different. I needed a change of scenery–a new path.”
She got an Active Guard Reserves job in the Air Force Reserves and had a permanent change of station to Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska. By the time Tayva was a senior in high school, she had one sister in the Army and another in the Air Force.
“I grew up with one sister or another deployed,” Tayva reflected. “I knew what deployment looked like. I remember waiting for phone calls and running out of the church to answer a phone call.”
Unlike Tiara and Tambra, military service had become part of Tayva’s life, but she wasn’t initially interested in serving, unless she could be an engineer. Fortunately, a new engineering unit had opened up in the Utah Air National Guard. She enlisted September 2006 as an engineer in the Air Guard, which tied in perfectly with her civilian career path. Brig. Gen. Christine Burckle, who was a colonel at the time, issued the Oath of Enlistment.
Tayva used her education benefits to attend Utah State University where she earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering.
In 2010, the twins, Taryn and Ty’ lene, graduated high school.
“I wanted to be a veterinarian,” Ty’ lene said. “I kind of had it in my mind that I wanted to be an Army veterinarian, but I wanted to wait about a year after graduation to make sure the military was actually something that I wanted to do for myself, not just following in my sisters’ footsteps.”
She went to Weber State University with a music scholarship. One year after graduation, she met with the recruiter on campus and decided to enlist. The officer who administered the Oath of Enlistment that day was none other than Ty’ lene’s older sister, Tambra, who had recently returned from her Iraq deployment.
Ty’ lene joined under the Simultaneous Membership program, planning to return to Weber State’s ROTC program after completing basic training at Fort Jackson, but plans changed when she had her first taste of the military.
“I fell in love with the Army mindset,” she said.
While still at Advanced Individual Training, she applied for several full-time positions in the Utah National Guard. On the plane coming back home, she set up job interviews. The Monday after she came home, she interviewed for two jobs, and started the following week as an admin assistant in the G3. Not long after that, she joined the Utah Guard Biathlon team and brought home two second-place medals from her first regional competition. She would go on to take first place in the 2015 Utah Best Warrior Competition, to be the Soldier of the Year.
After graduation, Taryn was on a different path. She had been attending Southern Utah University, where she was pursuing a music major when she reached out to Tiara and asked if she could come to stay with her in Nebraska for the summer between college semesters.
“She was a great roommate,” Tiara said. “She helped me foster doggies and we had a great time.”
After moving to Nebraska, Taryn decided it was time to do something different.
“I wanted to push myself, to set higher goals for myself.”
She had been considering the Navy since high school. “I remember getting a Navy recruiter postcard in the mail and I liked the colors–the blue and white–and when the recruiter came, dressed in his ‘whites,’ it was super motivating.”
She was accepted into the Navy ROTC program at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. As the last of the five sisters to join the military, she wanted to set herself apart, to blaze a new path. Tiara was serving in the Air Force Reserves, Tambra and Ty’ lene were in the Utah Army National Guard, and Tayva was in the Utah Air National Guard. She would go Navy.
While in Nebraska, Tiara worked on her undergraduate degree at the University of Nebraska–Omaha and graduated in the winter of 2011. She was simultaneously accepted into the Deserving Airman Commissioning Program and became an officer in May 2012. She moved to Washington D.C. for a civilian job in Human Resources with the Department of Transportation, then did an extended tour to support the International Airmen Division at the Pentagon. As an officer, she was able to administer the Oath of Office to commission Tayva as an officer, while Tayva’s first salute came from her twin sister, Ty’ lene.
“My parents raised us to know our strengths and to always try our hardest, to tell the truth, and be brave,” Tiara said. “To do things that scare us. To eat the food that’s put in front of us, whether we like it or not. If you look at the way my mom and dad raised us, those skills are what helped us to adapt to serve in the military.”
“One of the rights of passage for each of my girls,” their father, Steve, explained, “is at age 8, I take them out rappelling. I teach them proper skills, with good anchors and good knots, and then I back them off of a cliff.”
By the time each of the five sisters arrived at basic training, they could get down a rappel tower in a single bound.
When asked about what it was like to have five daughters serving in the military, he said, “It’s the scariest thing you’ll ever be proud of.”
He invites all parents to have an open mind about military service.
“My girls have grown in the military. As a dad, I know they are going to be OK because they have learned to stand on their own two feet and take charge of their lives.”
He fondly refers to his daughters as “Papa’s Patrol.”
Today, Capt. Tiara Puro is the operations officer for the 301st Force Support Squadron, at Naval Air Station Fort Worth Joint Reserve Base.
“The gifts and blessings that have enriched my life because of my military service are countless,” she said.
Maj. Tambra West is the G3 resource integration manager in the Utah National Guard.
1st Lt. Tayva Lamb is a Cyberspace Operations Officers in the Utah Air National Guard, assigned to the 130th Engineering Installation Squadron, currently preparing to deploy with her unit. On the civilian side, she is a system structural engineer for Sumaria Systems, Inc., working on the General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon at Hill Air Force Base. She’s married with two boys, ages 4 and 8.
Staff Sgt. Ty’ lene Puro is an admin assistant in the Utah Army National Guard, assigned to the 65th Field Artillery Brigade, currently on her way home from a deployment in the Middle East. She is the only NCO in the family.
“We’re intertwined,” Ty’ lene said. “Even though we all have such different military careers, we’re all still connected.”