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.”
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