PHOTO CAPTION: Ilise Garcia, winner of the Kaplan University scholarship, poses with her family during a photo shoot taken before their newborn daughter was born. (Courtesy photo)
October 3, 2013
By Sgt. Tracy R. Myers
FORT HOOD, Texas - Kaplan University and American Freedom Foundation recently awarded Army wife a full-ride scholarship to earn her Bachelor of Science in nursing.
The memory of an overturned minivan sliding on its roof down a Florida road with a family of six reminds Spc. Jon Garcia, a mechanic with 664th Ordnance Company, 553rd Combat Service Support Battalion, 4th Sustainment Brigade, 13th Sustainment Command, that his wife, Ilise, is a natural born caregiver.
“We pulled over, and jumped the rails,” Jon said. “We immediately got the family members out of the van, and she started treating them on the spot.”
Prior to any college education in nursing, Jon’s wife insisted on saving this helpless family in a time of need.
“I just did what I could to keep them calm and breathing until the paramedics arrived,” said Ilise, a postpartum nurse at the MetroPlex Hospital. “It’s just an instinct.”
With her husband’s upcoming deployment on the horizon, an infant daughter and a newborn baby girl, she strives for even more obligation and responsibilities.
Kaplan University and American Freedom Foundation recently awarded her a full-ride scholarship to earn her Bachelor of Science in nursing.
“AFF and Kaplan University partner to provide scholarship opportunities for military families, and in the past two years, we have awarded over 100 academic scholarships to spouses and dependents – including four at Fort Hood,” said Sergeant Major of the Army (retired) Jack Tilley, American Freedom Foundation co-founder, chairman, and CEO.
They are working on expanding the program in several different areas, Tilley said. They currently offer full and partial scholarships to spouses and dependents of active-duty, National Guard and Reserve service members of all ranks and branches of the U.S. military.
“Education is the key to success,” Tilley said. “The scholarship is intended to help you prepare for the future.”
Scholarship applications are still being accepted and must be submitted by Oct. 31.
Ilise wasn’t expecting to win the scholarship, but she met all the requirements.
“I was ready to go back to school. … Right before I was about to start classes, my academic advisor told me about this scholarship,” she said. “It was a shot in the dark, and I was in shock when they called to tell me I was accepted.”
With or without the financial assistance, she was determined to achieve more to enrich lives.
“One way I know for sure that I can help my community, the hospital and my fellow nurses, is to get a degree which will allow me to have a leadership position in the future,” Ilise said. “The more knowledge you have the more of an asset you are to your patients and your leadership.”
Ilise was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when she was 11 years old, she had her fair share of hospitals, nurses and doctors growing up, she said. It took her a while to realize that’s where she needed to be to make a difference.
Jon and Ilise started dating in high school. They both graduated from Felix Varela High School in Miami.
After high school, she was without health insurance for six years, having to find alternative methods and resources to deal with her diabetes, Jon said.
“She definitely deserves this scholarship,” he said. “Even when walls are put up in front of her, she will find a way over them.”
She always has a strategy for getting around obstacles in life, including her school endeavors.
“I wasn’t sure how nursing would be once I got into the field, so I decided to give it a try and see where my future lies,” Ilise said. “Additionally, I was pregnant with our daughter and my husband was in basic training. It was a complicated pregnancy because of my medical situation, so it was not a good time for me to continue schooling.”
Now, Ilise is ready to tackle it again, this time with a newborn baby and deployed spouse. But, she won’t be doing it alone.
“I can do it all from home, so when my daughters are napping or at day care, I can get online and do my school work,” she said. “Thankfully, we have a wonderful daycare on post; they are fantastic and supportive.”
Finding child care is probably one of the biggest challenges
military spouses have these days, she said. You have to be able to support one another as a military Family.
By having a support system, a lot can be accomplished.
“My end goal is to get my master’s in nursing,” she said. “You just have to make a conscious effort. Find the time. It is exhausting, but it is definitely worth it.”
This mother-of-two is furthering her college education for several reasons.
“You run into a lot of obstacles when you want to instill change as a staff nurse,” Ilise said. “You may have wonderful ideas of ways to change your unit, but you’re not taken seriously without the education and experience.”
A bachelor’s degree will open so many doors to different areas of nursing, she said. It will allow her to hold leadership and management positions.
“I found a passion for maternal and fetal medicine,” she said. “It’s another way for me to support Army wives who lack the support system of their Families due to being away from home. Working in this community is great because a majority of the patients are military, so we can relate to one another.”
As a parent, she looks forward to having a more stable schedule and flexible hours in addition to greater opportunities in the field of nursing, she said. Financially, there are definitely benefits, as well.
“It’s really important to show my kids what they are capable of accomplishing,” Ilise said. “I want to be a good role-model to my daughters.”
“Military spouses have a tendency to give a lot to help with their Soldiers career, raise the kids and keep up the home front that they tend to forget themselves,” she said. “It’s OK for you to want to better yourself, go to school, do what you need to do for yourself because it makes you a stronger person for your family and community.”
Be proactive about your future, your career, your interests and your goals because they are important to, Ilise said. It doesn’t matter what you do, if you enjoy doing it than it won’t feel like work.
She still finds time for self-improvement even with the challenges she has faced and the sacrifices she made for her family.
“It’s nice for her to finally catch a little bit of a break,” Jon said. “She moved away from our hometown to support my career, where she had no support system other than me. She gives me the drive to keep going.”
Ilise’s enthusiasm should inspire spouses and dependents to improve their future and quality of life through education and motivation.