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Joining the Navy for the challenge

ABOARD THE USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN—Standing on a ladder, Angelica Martinez sprays rubbing alcohol on the tail of a S-3B Viking, an anti-submarine aircraft; and she wipes it clean, with pride and attention to detail like someone polishing a piece of furniture that's been in the family for generations.

"After we inspect our aircraft, we make sure we clean them," Martinez says. "We make sure there isn't dust inside or corrosion."

Martinez, 19, who was born in El Salvador and raised in Guatemala, was sent to Los Angeles when she was 13 to live with her two sisters.

"My dad wanted me to study and have a second language and have better opportunities," she says. "So he sent me to live with my sisters."

Martinez is a plane captain. "We launch the birds," she says. "We do all the signals, and we start the engines for the pilots."

She joined the Navy for the challenge. "My friend tried to join the Navy and he couldn't," she says. "I told him, you can make it. I'm going to make it. So I went and took the test and passed the test. But I said, `Nah, I'm not going to join.'"

Then one of her friends joined the Navy.

"She came back and told me it's not that hard; it's easy," Martinez says. "So I said, if she can do it, I can do it, too."

Martinez has been aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln since it deployed in July. She misses her family, still living in El Salvador.

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(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

ILLUSTRATION (from KRT Illustration Bank, 202-383-6064): usiraq- Martinez

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