The apple did not fall far from the tree for Christina Puza. Puza, a veteran now teaching and coaching at Wilson Central High School, followed her family’s footsteps. “I grew up in a family of Navy guys,” Puza said referring to her grandfather, uncle, and father’s service during World War II and Vietnam. Soon after graduating high school, and unsure of her next move, she met with a Navy recruiter in hopes of enlisting. Puza vividly remembers how rude the recruiter was, so she decided to visit the Marine Corps next door. She learned not only did they have the same aviator jobs she was seeking, but it was also more difficult, which appealed to Puza, who competed in soccer, lacrosse, track, diving, and gymnastic in her Illinois high school. The opportunity and challenge was the perfect fit.
Bootcamp was what Puza expected it to be. “It was the hardest thing I have ever done,” Puza said, recalling her discomfort, and 13 weeks’ worth of sweat in the middle of the South Carolina summer. “It changes you forever, honestly.” She wanted to leave, and of the 70 enlisted women, only 40 graduated. Following graduation, Puza began combat training. But soon after, the real fun began at air cruise school in Pensacola, Fl., where she completed her training in 1998. Puza’s first job landed her as a jet engine mechanic of the CH53 helicopter. “I was the first female ever in Marine Corps history to have that job.” She stayed in that role before she transitioned to training incoming Marines in her last year and a half in the Marine Corps.
Highly competitive, and always looking for a new challenge, Puza’s interest shifted to becoming a military policewoman. However, after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, a job change wasn’t possible for Puza with her reenlistment date approaching. “Because we were about ready to go to war, they wouldn’t let me change my job. … I wanted to stay in but there wasn’t an avenue (of advancement) at that moment.”
Following her service in the Marine Corps, Puza spent 15 years in the aerospace industry, spending time in sales and marketing for large aerospace companies. A new job title in 2008 led her to Nashville, until 2016 when she quit work to finish her bachelor’s degree online from the University of Phoenix. In 2020, Puza was managing a propane company, but the Covid shutdown brought that to an end. After deep reflection that summer, Puza sought out a high school science job. Wilson Central emailed her to see if she had an interest during a time the school was struggling to staff teachers. Puza jumped at the opportunity. “I want to make a difference in people’s lives,” Puza, a STEM educator, lacrosse head coach, and assistant soccer coach, said. “I’d rather go home with that feeling every day than with a lot of money in my pocket.”
“I was the first female ever in Marine Corps history to have that job.” Puza, referring to her first military job as a jet engine mechanic of the CH53 helicopter