As a young girl growing up in Tuscon, Arizona she was a role model for her four younger siblings. She helped her mother care for them, doing laundry, helping with homework and making sure they went to bed on time. These tasks fell to her, when she became the eldest sibling at home.
Sadly her older brother had gotten involved with a gang, had brushes with the law and was placed in juvenile detention at 13. This placed the responsibility of being the oldest child in the home on her shoulders.
Her father, Antonio Morales, worked hard as a pastor and a plumber in a poor neighborhood on the east side of Tuscon. Julie showed the ability to bear responsibility and Mr. Morales leaned on her to help with their family.
Guerra credits her father for giving her the discipline she needed to rise through the ranks in the Army for 26 years, now serving as the senior NCO for Soldiers in Army intelligence, helping facilitate training and ensuring that Soldiers have resources within the career field.
“He saw that I had the discipline and the responsibility to be the one that he could put in charge and he entrusted me with a lot of things because of that,” said Guerra.
“A lot of responsibility was put on me within our family because of our culture. And that really from a very young age put me in a leadership role that was very traditional to how we lead in the Army. That was unknown to me at the time, [but] it was setting a path for me to be where I am today,” said Guerra.
When Guerra would be overwhelmed by the chores and caring for her siblings, she would play classical music on her violin. By the age of 10 she had earned a spot in the city’s youth orchestra, performing in front of large audiences.
“[Playing violin] really made me appreciate Tucson in a different way. Because what I saw was poverty. What I experienced was food insecurity, and almost everybody that I was friends with and grew up with, they were in the same boat,” she said.
Tucson is about 65 miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border in the colorful Sonoran Desert. It has one of the highest poverty rates among large cities in the Southwest, where about 40 percent of the city identifies as Hispanic.
Despite living through hardship and the family becoming homeless at one point, Guerra and her parents found strength by turning to neighboring families for support in desperate times. Her father also gave her the hope that she could work toward a better life.
On a summer night in 1985, Mr. Morales took his daughter to Sentinel Peak, a 2,897-foot mountain in the Sonoran Desert that over looks Tuscon.
As they gazed out over the city huddled under the dark, clear sky he said to her, “All this can be yours. Don’t ever let people tell you that you can’t do anything. Don’t ever let people tell you that you’re not qualified for something just because you’re a girl.”
When Guerra was 13, her father took a job in Indiana and the family moved, leaving behind a familiar area and the close knit community. It was a difficult adjustment for the family and it took time for Guerra to settle into a vastly different community that didn’t have the same cultural heritage.
She eventually returned to playing the violin and found a job at a local gym as a babysitter to help provide income for the family. After graduating from high school in 1993, she returned to Tucson, enrolling in college, planning major in pre-law.
Guerra joined the Army to pay her tuition with the G.I. Bill. By the time she had finished her first four years in the Army, it had become like a second family to her and she chose to pursue a career in the military.
Despite some mixed experiences with leaders in the Army as a young soldier, she didn’t let that stop her.
She learned to value mentorship, recognizing that good leadership could have a positive impact on a Soldier’s career. Her fair but direct style was a benefit to the Soldiers she shaped in her 18 months as a drill sergeant in Fort Leonard, Missouri.
The upbringing she experienced helped her to empathize with Soldiers that came from various socioeconomic backgrounds and different walks of life.
Although she faced challenges common to females serving in the military, she had her father to lean on and he was her number one supporter.
Guerra’s father did see her reach the upper echelon of the U.S. Army and obtain her Bachelor’s degree in Liberal Arts in 2011 from Excelsior College before his passing in 2018 at the age of 69.
“He was my No. 1 supporter. He had an amazing impact on me as a daughter and that really shaped me into the mother and the woman that I am today,” Guerra said.