Specialist Nadine Garcia ’19 is a full-time student studying international business with an emphasis in global trade and linguistics at Mihaylo College. She was still a senior in high school and just 17 years old when she officially signed on to join the United States Army Reserve, and she currently holds the rank of specialist. I spoke with Spc. Garcia on the exact date of her fourth military anniversary to learn more about what it’s like being a full-time student while also serving in the military.

Spc. Nadine Garcia served a military deployment in 2016

Specialist Nadine Garcia was born and raised in Montebello, California, and moved to Fullerton to be closer to campus. At first glance, she may seem to have the “typical” student life as a college junior. She attends class in Mihaylo Hall most mornings and works a part-time job at Huntington Beach Harley-Davidson. If she has any time left over, she spends it with her friends and family or plays with her dog, Harley.

What most people don’t know about Spc. Garcia is that in 2016, she served her first deployment in the Middle East. And one weekend out of every month, she attends Army Drill Assembly, preparing for future deployments.

Leaving For Her First Military Deployment

Before leaving for deployment, Spc. Garcia had to make sure that she was prepared at all times. “In reserve, everybody’s job is to make sure they are ready for deployment,” she says. “You make sure to do all of your army training courses, your medical readiness is completed, your vaccinations are taken care of, and you pass your PT [physical training] test.”

In the days leading up to her departure, Spc. Garcia was able to celebrate her best friend’s birthday and have a going away dinner with her family. “The hardest part was saying bye to my mom,” says Spc. Garcia. “We are so close.”

Before heading off to Kuwait, Spc. Garcia was sent to Fort Bliss, Texas, for a few days to go through military in-processing, “a pre-mobilization period which takes place at any of the military stations in the United States. At Fort Bliss, I got my Kevlar [helmet] and gear and completed some training classes about the location I was going to. Then a few days later, I hopped onto a 21-hour flight and went straight to Kuwait. I was there from late February to mid-August.”

Arrival in Kuwait

Kuwait is a Middle Eastern country nestled between Iraq and Saudi Arabia. Spc. Garcia was stationed at Ali Al Salem, one of 10 U.S. military bases in Kuwait.

Ali Al Salem serves as an aviation base. “This base was primarily responsible for mobilization ‒ transporting equipment and personnel,” says Spc. Garcia. “Transporting personnel typically involves moving special forces and VIP personnel to other bases, other locations or other missions. My job was mainly to plan flight missions regarding transportation for all VIP personnel, such as the commander of the base, and getting him from point A to point B.”

During her time in Kuwait, Spc. Garcia experienced all kinds of weather. “I was in Kuwait for all of the summer months, so I got the heat, I got the cold, I got the wet. The hard rain, the sticky rain, you name it. The area that I was in wasn’t humid – it was mostly dry heat. On a daily basis, it was an average of 115 to 130 degrees Fahrenheit outside. It would cool down a bit at night, but it would still be around 90 degrees. Thankfully, our bodies can adjust to the climate – and getting back to 80-degree weather in Texas felt really cold to me!”

Post-Deployment and Civilian Life

After returning from her deployment, Spc. Garcia had only two days to get readjusted before the start of fall semester. Sharing her experience of readjusting to civilian life, Spc. Garcia says that the Veterans Resource Center (VRC) and the Student Veterans Association (SVA) at Cal State Fullerton were instrumental in helping her get readjusted to civilian life as a student. “During your deployment, everything, including your schedule, is set for you, but after you get back, adjusting to civilian life, you’re on your own. That’s where the VRC and SVA came in.”

Specialist Garcia with Major Jesus Cruz, the Battalion Commander of the Cal State Fullerton ROTC program.

Through these campus organizations, Spc. Garcia became part of a close-knit community of people with similar experiences. The VRC and SVA are a diverse group of individuals who range from 18 to 60 years of age and have differing levels of involvement with the military. Along with the rest of Cal State Fullerton’s military population, Spc. Garcia also has the Veteran’s Resources Center to lean on for help and academic support.

Spc. Garcia credits these two groups with helping her more easily adjust back to civilian life and providing her a social outlet. She participated in the annual Vets Versus Cadets flag football game in November, a tradition that started four years ago. “We won this year. For the first time, the vets beat the cadets,” says Spc. Garcia, who was recognized as this year’s most valuable player (MVP) on the vets’ team.

Post-Graduation Career Plans

Spc. Garcia plans to remain in the Army throughout the duration of college and beyond. After graduating with her bachelor’s in international business, she hopes to use her emphasis in linguistics in her Army career. “Once I graduate, I plan on commissioning as an officer, through Officer Candidate School, and then going active duty straight after that. I plan to do my Full 20 – and that means that after 20 years of full service, I would retire from the military at 43 years old.”

The Cal State Fullerton student body proudly hosts a large community of military members. This community includes students who are a part of the military as veterans, active duty, reserve service, retired military or dependents. For more information on resources that are available to students involved in the military, please visit the Veterans Resource Center and check out the Student Veterans Association at Cal State Fullerton.