It is said that determination is the wake up call to the human will and that victory is always possible for the person who refuses to stop fighting. Marlisse Garcia, a Paralegal Specialist in U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) Area Port of San Juan, Puerto Rico, is the embodiment of this ethos. ‘I can, I will, I must’ is a favorite mantra that Marlisse has used to face and overcome many challenges in her life, including her education, her military career, and her path to service within our agency.
“It helped me to focus on the end goal throughout the arduous and challenging coursework required of attaining my Juris Doctorate at the Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico,” she said. “It also added the extra boost I needed to combat the physically demanding training of becoming a military police officer at the Army’s renowned Military Police school at Ft. Leonard Wood in Missouri.”
Marlisse’s ‘I can, I will, I must’ mindset also helped her overcome a devastating injury incurred during her military police training. That injury cut short her military career and left her drifting.
“It is hard to put into words the crushing nature of my injury both physically and psychologically,” she said. “You see, I’d intended to make the Army a career. To have that taken away in a flash required inner strength and a belief in myself to know that something good would come of it.”
How can a simple phrase like ‘I can, I will, I must’ provide such inner strength to persevere? Marlisse explains her mantra simply:
- I can – It is possible and I can do it.
- I will – Not ‘I hope I can’ or ‘I might.’ I will means it is going to happen.
- I must – It absolutely has to be done, no excuses.
Marlisse became part of the CBP family through her participation in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs' (VA) Veterans Readiness and Employment (VR&E) Non-Paid Work Experience (NPWE) internship program.
“When left the Army it was hard for me to get a job, she said. Even with my bachelor’s degree and a juris doctorate, I did not have the experience that many employers required. That, along with my service-connected disability conditions, left me hopeless and adrift. That is, until a friend alerted me to this same VR&E benefit program, which provides veterans who have 20 percent or greater VA disability ratings with 48 months of educational assistance and job placement services. Armed with this information, I had the hope that I could, I would, and that I must pursue this new approach in obtaining my dream of federal employment.”
Because Marlisse already had more than enough education for employment, her VA counselor worked with her and Jeffrey R. Jack, CBP’s national Veterans Employment Program Manager (VEPM), toward her placement in an NPWE internship as a paralegal specialist. The NPWE provides practical job experience in non-law enforcement professions with interns performing the same duties that any employees under the same GS series and grade would in these positions.
“If you work hard and do everything with determination,” Marlisse said, “you can accomplish your goals. I have always considered myself a hardworking woman in everything I do. I think that’s part of what my supervisors saw in me during this internship. I was hired directly without competitive recruitment (outside of USAJOBS.gov) after seven months in the NPWE internship program using my veterans’ preference. When I started in the program, I did not have much knowledge of what CBP was all about. Working within this internship format helped me to discover that CBP’s mission and core values are very similar to the Army’s values I held (and still hold) dear. Some of those values are integrity and service to country.
“Without this NPWE internship,” she said, “I would probably still be on the outside looking in regarding employment, especially in such a small job market as exists in Puerto Rico. Thankfully I was given such an opportunity and demonstrated that I deserved the chance to be considered in joining the CBP family. Finally, when I joined the Army I remember the zeal I had to serve my country and keep it safe. With CBP I’m still serving the country I love passionately and helping to keep it safe in a civilian career. The VA, NPWE internship program provided me that opportunity. Veterans still have so much to offer after our military service and what better way to do it than to serve our country in the federal Government?
“If you are a veteran like me and believe you can, you will, and you must, then watch as the results speak for themselves. My story is a testament to this hope, belief, and its ultimate reality personified.”
For more information on how to participate in the NPWE internship program, please contact Jeff Jack at firstname.lastname@example.org.