For the tenth summer since Blue Star Museums began in 2009, the Honolulu Museum of Art offers active-duty military personnel and their families free admission—as well as as 10 percent off purchases in the Museum Shop—through Sept. 1. In honor of the the program’s milestone anniversary, we are sharing stories from veterans working at HoMA.

Diana Garcia is the super-efficient and quick-to-laugh Visitor Information Center associate at the museum’s front desk. She is also a 20-year veteran of the U.S. Air Force, and she spearheaded this series on HoMA staff.

The bilingual Garcia speaks Spanish, “so all the crazy stuff that I did with the military was down in Panama, Central America, South America,” she says. “I was told I couldn’t retire after 9/11 because they wanted to make sure they didn’t lose anybody that they needed.”

She’s what she calls a “military lifer”—her father was in security forces and as the family moved around the world, from Florida to Turkey, “my mom was always trying to educate the savages,” jokes Garcia. “That was her mission, to make sure her kids turned into good, productive citizens. And she loves art so she used to take us to museums.” Her husband is also with the Air Force.

Garcia’s mother was born and raised in Madrid, and when the family settled there for a year while her father was “on remote,” they spent a lot of time at the Prado. “My mom grew up in the Prado, so we would all go there and look at the pictures,” remembers Garcia. “I was four, and I have very clear memories of Velásquez, Bosch.”

Her first visit to HoMA was while she was on a business trip to Honolulu in the 1990s. “Everyone else was trying to find the lū‘au and I’m going, ʻNo no no, let’s see if I can find a museum.’ I’m not much of an artist but I’ve always loved art, always wanted to be close to it.”

Before moving to Honolulu as a “trailing spouse,” Garcia worked at the Pentagon for 10 years for the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force of Acquisition, helping the Air Force procure a new rescue helicopter, and ensuring that it took good care of the current aircraft fleet until the new craft was brought on board. “It was difficult, but extremely rewarding work,” she says.

As she was unpacking furniture three years ago this summer, she decided to take a break. “I hopped in my car, and made my way to HoMA. I was lucky to drop into a Tour + Talk Story led by the incomparable Margaret Mann, and I became a fan of HoMA on the spot.” Garcia started as a volunteer at Spalding House in January 2017 and she did such a great job, she became a part-time visitor services associate six months later.

“Working here has given me the opportunity to further explore my lifelong fascination with art,” says Garcia, “to pull on that ‘thread’ that has been woven throughout my life—as well as get a back-bench seat at the business of getting art in front of people, which I find equally fascinating.”