JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO, Texas, –
In observance of Women’s History Month, Navy Talent Acquisition Group San Antonio recognizes the contributions of Senior Chief Petty Officer Kristal Pena, NTAG San Antonio lead Warrior Challenge Program talent scout.
Every morning, five days a week, Senior Chief Petty Officer Kristal Pena trains future Sailors to go beyond their limits to make it through one of the Navy’s most elite programs.
Pena, a single mother with four daughters, is originally from Santa Ana, California and is currently the Navy Talent Acquisition Group San Antonio lead Warrior Challenge Program talent scout at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston.
In her role, she makes sure future Sailors, who are in the Warrior Challenge Program, or WCP, are physically fit to meet the rigorous standards of the program and are ready to pass the Navy Challenge Physical Standards Test, or PST, prior to going to boot camp.
The Navy uses the WCP to identify and develop future Sailors who are in the Delayed Entry Program for unique and demanding career fields in the Navy, including Naval Special Warfare, and Pena develops and supervises the workouts of those future Sailors at 7 a.m. every morning.
A former Navy drill sergeant, Pena said she incorporates a boot camp style into her workouts to push her future Sailors to go beyond their limits in meeting the high standards expected of them.
“They don’t know their potential, most of them, until they come to our program,” Pena said. “We show them how much stronger they can be mentally and physically, and really, they have something to strive for. We set high expectations.”
The 42-year-old Pena leads by example by participating in the strenuous workouts she plans for the future Sailors half her age.
“I don’t feel I can be leading them if I can’t do what they can do,” Pena said. “I’m never going to tell my Sailor to do something physically if I can’t do it. I’m not that type of leader - because if I tell them they have to do a ladder of 200 pushups in a matter of 10 minutes, then I’m doing it with them.”
Pena, who has 23 years of service in the Navy, started at NTAG San Antonio in 2019 as an officer recruiter and became the lead WCP talent scout in February 2020 in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The pandemic brought many challenges in how Pena trained and worked out the WCP future Sailors.
For nine weeks, because of restrictions, the recruits couldn’t come on to base to workout. They had to train at home from workouts posted online, she said.
Even during a pandemic, Pena said she still found ways to motivate the recruits and hold them accountable to the high standards they were expected to adhere to.
“We had to basically motivate these Sailors every day to keep going, to keep working out,” she said.
Within six weeks after they were allowed back on base, NTAG San Antonio was able to make their goals for WCP.
Pena started her Navy career as a radioman in 1997 and has served for 15 years on active duty. She also served as a recruit division commander, or drill sergeant, for two duty assignments, and completed deployments to Africa, Japan, and Guam. She has been a member of the Navy Reserve for the last eight years.
In addition to her Reserve duties at NTAG San Antonio, Pena is also a certified firearms instructor and a federal law enforcement officer working with asylum seekers who want to become U.S. citizens.
As a woman serving in the Navy, Pena said she is thankful for the people who have guided her throughout her military career.
“I feel honored to have had great mentors who really believed in me to get me to the point where I’m at today,” she said.
Now, she is passing on the knowledge she has gained as a senior enlisted mentor to female future Sailors and meets with them every month via Zoom.
She said they often ask her questions about her career, including how she ended up in the Navy, what to expect being a woman in the Navy, and how her experiences in the Navy that can help them.
“I tell them that nothing is going to be handed to them,” she said. “It’s not going to be the easiest thing they’ve ever done, but it’s the most rewarding thing. I kind of give them a perspective of what to expect and the best ways to come out of every situation positively, and taking all of those opportunities that come their way.”