ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – It is calling for her to serve. A local woman was commissioned into the New Mexico Army National Guard as a chaplain candidate, years after leaving the Marines. She says she feels led by God and the decades of service of her husband. Coming from a long line of family members in the military, Denise Garcia says it was no surprise she would enlist, as well.
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“My dad retired from the Army Reserves, my brother served in the Air Force, my grandpa in the Navy, uncles in the Marine Corps,” said Garcia. “I think I’ve always felt that I should serve.”
She joined the Air Force when she was 18 and served for three years. Later, she joined the Marine Corps at 29 and served another six years before leaving to raise her kids and become a mental health therapist.
“Life happens and marriages and babies and all that kind of stuff,” said Garcia. “I just kind of have always felt that I wasn’t done. But I was getting older and time was getting short for me to be able to come back in.”
Garcia now works in a faith-based agency, serving military families and civilians. Her husband recently retired from the Army National Guard after 31 years. When a friend suggested she try to serve again as a chaplain, she says God set her on a new path.
“Prayed about it and the following week, I registered for school in the master’s of divinity and started the application process,” said Garcia. “You have to be in the program at school in order to start the application process.”
This week, 15 years after leaving the Marines, Garcia was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the New Mexico Army National Guard. She was pinned with her new rank by her husband and children.
“Here I am, 50 years old and back in the military,” 2nd Lt. Garcia laughed. “It’s been 15 years. I would not have seen this coming, honestly. Really thought that door had closed.”
While she’s not sure what the next 10 years of service will hold, Garcia says she’s ready, nervous and excited.
“I was comfortable being mom, I work three days a week as a counselor and spend the rest of the time taking care of my family. It’s a privilege and an honor to be able to serve in this capacity,” said Garcia. “You’re never too old. Never too old to start something new or finish what you started when you were 18.”
Garcia says she has about two years left in her divinity master’s program. She begins training in the Army National Guard within the next few weeks, with chaplain officer training set for next summer.