Posted on December 22, 2015
“I’m amazed at the level of support your organization provides to veterans,” says retired Marine Gunnery Sergeant Fernando Garcia.“Your help arrived just in time.”
For Fernando, “just in time” was right after finding out he had thyroid cancer.
“It’s supposed to be the lesser of all the cancers,” says Fernando, who enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1992. “I had my thyroid and a whole bunch of lymph nodes removed. I had three surgeries and two courses of radiation.”
While Fernando was dealing with his cancer diagnosis and treatment, his wife Michele was taking care of their infant daughter Paulina and trying to find a job. There was little prospect of reducing the enormous stress in their lives.
“One day I get a call from Carrie Grose,” Fernando recalls, “and she says, ‘I’m your Semper Fi Fund case manager, is there anything you guys need?’ Well, of course I tell her our whole story, and she says, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m gonna send you something tomorrow, I hope it helps, let me know when you get it.’ We talked for a few more minutes, and that was the end of the conversation.” During the time Carrie reached out to Fernando his wife had just lost her job and that added to their stress. They didn’t know what they were going to do, so it was really good timing.
Inside were gift cards—we were able to buy gas and food.”
“When people ask me about the Semper Fi Fund, I tell them the story of how Carrie called me one day when I was in the most need of help, how this organization came out of nowhere and helped me directly. And she’s constantly calling me to see if there’s anything they can do to improve my life.”
“That’s what makes the Semper Fi Fund different” Fernando continues. “It’s how direct and how in touch the case manager is with the Marine. In my case, I didn’t encounter any bureaucracy at all. They’re on top of your issues locally, they look at things beyond the individual—they look at the spouses, the kids, they look at the wounded warrior as a unit along with the family.”
For most of Fernando’s two decades in the Marine Corps (he retired from service in February 2013) he was a high-level communications systems specialist. He deployed all over the Middle East, worked with an elite unit in Florida that served the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and served as communications chief for General Joseph Dunford for 6 months, who became 36th Commandant of the Marine Corps in 2014.
Today, Fernando works at Camp Pendleton in southern California. He supports the Marines providing systems analysis and technical support for Marine Corps forces worldwide. Looking to the future, he and Michele hope to live in Spain someday.
“She likes painting,” Fernando says, “parks, scenery, that sort of thing. I like writing—I wrote in college, I have a Master’s degree in public policy and administration from Northwestern University in Chicago, my thesis was about the VA and how to fix it—and we love traveling.”
When asked what he would like people to remember most about his story Fernando says,“There’s help. There’s hope. But we have to go out there and help ourselves.”
“No matter how down we are,” he continues, “no matter how depressed we are, we can’t be too proud—we’re proud of being Marines, but we can’t be too proud to ask for help. I think that’s what hurts us the most, the pride of thinking we don’t need help, but we do. I’ve seen it, I’ve seen it in our support groups. People are too proud to admit we need help.”