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From base to bedside: Air Force veteran pursues second career in nursing at GSW

By Rebekah McLeod

GSW's non-traditional students bring diverse backgrounds and intriguing life journeys; although only one can say she has met four U.S. presidents, soloed the North American Aviation T-6 Texan, holds the record as the first female boxing champion at the United States Air Force Academy, and has jumped out of airplanes.

Kassie Prusko (age 30), a native of Chicago, is certainly one of a kind. She will soon graduate with her second degree, a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), following an accomplished five-year career in the Air Force.

Following in her older sister Alexandra's footsteps, Kassie attended the Air Force Academy and graduated in 2016 with the rank of Second Lieutenant, while remaining inspired by her mother's extensive 30-plus year career in nursing.

"I'm a very caring nursing was always in the back of my mind," Kassie recalls. "I probably would have majored in it if the Academy offered it. Instead I majored in Behavioral Science and minored in Arabic. I have always felt I could contribute more to society as a nurse."

Kassie's drive and tenacious spirit served her well while she attended pilot training in Oklahoma and soloed the T-6. Although she planned to become a pilot, her career pivoted, landing her at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland where she worked flight line protocol.

During this assignment, Kassie led several foreign dignitary missions, spearheaded former President Bush's funeral transfer into the base, coordinated with the Secret Service and welcomed distinguished visitors, including four U.S. Presidents. Part of her responsibilities included escorting VIPs between Marine One and Air Force One. She was often paired with the First and Second Ladies while the Colonels accompanied the Presidents. Throughout her service, Kassie had the opportunity to meet Presidents Donald Trump, Jimmy Carter, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, as well as First Lady Melania Trump and Second Lady Karen Pence.

"Mrs. Pence was super nice," said Kassie. "We talked about fashion and her dogs...she loved her dogs and would travel with them so I was able to meet them." Canine companions hold a special place in Kassie's heart as she owns two: Toph, a German Shepard, and Korra, a husky/Samoyed mix.

After Kassie served five years in the Air Force, including a seven-month deployment to Kuwait in 2019-2020, she left the military and moved to Warner Robins, Ga.

She began researching nursing programs in the area and Georgia Southwestern came up within driving distance. "GSW took all of my previous college credit, and I only had to take three prerequisites. I had no idea when I applied that GSW had the #1 BSN program in Georgia!"

Kassie entered GSW in Fall 2022 and has found the nursing program both challenging and rewarding. Some of Kassie's favorite mentors have been her practicum clinical instructor Danielle Potts and GSW professors Bonnie Gary (also former Air Force), and Brandy Pfeiffer. "Brandy knew my potential and always ensured I was being challenged. She helped me realize that sometimes 'you gotta be like a duck - calm and collected on top of the water - but always paddling as hard as you can underneath.'"

Kassie credits the unfailing support of her parents, siblings, friends and professors at GSW for helping her push through the challenges she has faced to accomplish her goals. "Family is a huge part of my life...they have been my rock, and I know I can always count on them."

Kassie's plans after graduating include taking the NCLEX by early June and working in the ER in Columbus for two years until she can earn her travel license. She is also interested in pursuing opportunities as a flight nurse.

"Working clinicals in the ER at St. Francis, despite being very hectic, has made me realize the love and passion I have for nursing. Being in the military gave me leadership skills and a natural drive to always go above and beyond. It also helped me thrive in high ops tempo environments and to do well under pressure so the ER is perfect for this. The nursing program at GSW showed me this was what I was born to do."