SAL ISLAND, Cabo Verde –
Culinary Specialist Seaman Erica Lopes returned to her birth country for the first time, when the Arleigh Burke guided-missile destroyer USS Bulkeley (DDG 84) conducted a port visit to Sal Island, Cabo Verde, in support of the African Maritime Forces Summit (AMFS), March 20-22, 2023.
Lopes was born in Cabo Verde’s capital city of Praia and immigrated to Boston, Mass. in 2003, when she was three years old. Her earliest memories of home is what she is looking forward to the most during her time in Cabo Verde — eating traditional dishes and dancing to music.
“At first I was nervous to come back, but as soon as I stepped off the ship and the fresh air hit me. It felt really good,” said Lopes. “It’s nice being back home and being around people that I’m comfortable with and who can speak the same language as me. I hope I can see my family before I have to leave.”
Although this is her first time back, she says that she has always found ways to honor her heritage. Lopes proudly speaks Creole, which is used as a second language by the Cabo Verdean diaspora. She also makes sure that her younger brother, who was born in the United States, doesn’t forget it as well. Lopes described it as way to stay connected to their home.
Lopes joined the Navy six months ago after a recruiter visited her home to meet with her brother. She said she overheard their conversation about being able travel around the world and earn college benefits, so she decided to enlist too.
“Somedays are hard, but there a lot of days that you get to experience amazing things. People aboard the ship are really nice. They care for one another and are always making sure that your mental health is ok,” she said.
Lopes has dreams of making the Navy a career. She wants to finish college and become an officer. Her advice to those thinking about joining the Navy too? Do it!
“I want to be an Admiral one day. I know becoming an officer will be a long and hard journey, but I’m ready for it,” said Lopes. “If life’s getting tough and you want to try something new, then join the Navy. Once you join the Navy, you’ll see how wonderful it is.”
Lopes says so far the Navy’s kept their promise of seeing the world. Last August, her ship home port shifted to Rota, Spain from Norfolk, Virginia. Since moving, she’s been enjoying exploring the local community and trying new experiences like traditional Spanish cuisine and music.
“When they say ‘join the Navy, see the world’ you never think that you’re going to go back home. I’ve only been in for six months, so to come back home is pretty wild. I’m really enjoying it.”