From enlisting in the service to walking down the aisle to walking across the stage at FIU’s graduation, Air Force medics Charmaine and Jean Fortune have followed each other in life and in their careers since they met.
They began dating in 2012 when they took part in a nurse-commissioning program together at Robins Air Force Base designed to help them attain bachelor’s degrees while maintaining active duty status.
“He’s a gentleman,” Charmaine said of what first attracted her to Jean. “His goal is education, and I like that about him. We both have goals and I think we matched up that way.”
Jean agreed, saying he first admired Charmaine for her dedication to patients and others around her. “She’s compassionate—the kind of person who would put herself into others’ shoes to help people out. She shows interest in what she’s doing, and she’s goal-oriented, and so am I.”
They both hope to pursue master’s degrees in nursing—she wants to be a nurse practitioner in the women’s health field, and he wants to be a nurse anesthetist—and their first step on that journey was to enroll in FIU’s Medic to Nurse program, which helps veterans, reservists and active duty servicemen convert military medical training to a bachelor’s in nursing.
Charmaine, a native of the Philippines, was inspired to pursue the field by a kindhearted nurse who took care of her sick grandmother during the final days of her life and taught Charmaine care-taking methods.
Jean, a native of Haiti, found his way to nursing through the military. His family was devastated by the 2010 earthquake; but he was inspired by efforts by U.S. military and responders to help victims, so he enlisted.
“I had close family members die and thrown into poverty,” he said. “But I saw U.S. service members risking their owns lives for people they hardly knew to get people out of the rubble.”
Since they met, Jean and Charmaine have done everything together. As young Airmen, the two would spend their weekdays working as medics at Robins in Georgia, and then drive four hours to Jacksonville to take pre-nursing classes at Florida State College every weekend.
Charmaine and Jean maintained active duty status while earning their bachelor’s degrees at FIU, so they were required to keep up their physical fitness, volunteer and perform other military duties while attending school full time and reporting their grades to their military superiors.
Sustaining a relationship through all this was a lot of work, said Jean. Between overnight trips for duty and lengthy assignments and study hours, the two would often go days without seeing each other. But the mutual support is what made it all possible. Charmaine’s master schedule of assignment due dates, clinical hours, lunch periods, workouts and every other minute of their lives helped out, too.
“It was very challenging, but we have each other and it alleviates the stress,” said Charmaine, who was recognized by President Mark B. Rosenberg as a Worlds Ahead graduate at Summer 2016 Commencement.
Walking across the stage with his beloved that day, both sporting Magna Cum Laude cords, made all their work the last four years worth it for Jean.
“To see us walking on that stage together and see us getting it done, it was a blessing. I was overjoyed.”
The next stop on their journey together: San Antonio Military Medical Center, where they will serve as nurses and second lieutenants while pursuing master’s degrees in nursing.