WASHINGTON (Army News Service, June 2, 2016) – During the Memorial Day weekend, amidst the Rolling Thunder motorcycle rally at the Pentagon, a quiet but brief scene unfolded in the din of thousands of rumbling engines. Two women, sisters of two veterans who lost their lives in service to the country, were awarded full educational Living Legacy Scholarships by the by Columbia Southern Education Group in conjunction with the Army’s Survivor Outreach Services and the TAPS or Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors.
Last year was the inaugural year of the Living Legacy Scholarship program launched by the group which gives a full academic scholarship to spouses, children, parents and siblings of fallen service members. Applicants demonstrate through an essay how receiving the scholarship would honor their loved one; what their educational and degree aspirations are and how the scholarship will help them live their lives.
This year’s recipients, Maya Ruiz of Stockbridge, Georgia, and Heather Giordano of Westminster, Colorado, were awarded full scholarships of up to $17,100 in one online associate, bachelor or master’s degree program at either Columbia Southern University in Orange Beach, Alabama, or through Waldorf University in Forest City, Iowa, both private liberal arts institutions.
Ruiz will be working toward her degree in psychology through Columbia Southern University in honor of her younger sister Airman 1st Class Kacey E. Ruiz who was one of 13 killed in Afghanistan in October 2015 when the transport plane she was a passenger in crashed.
Ruiz said her sister was her best friend, a hard worker who gave 100-percent of her effort to every day she served in the Air Force during her short two years of service.
“She’s an inspiration to me,” she said. “Both our parents were former Marines, so I may go in the military and seek a commission after I finish my degree… I feel so completely blessed to be presented with this opportunity and am looking at using my studies as a way to help other sibling survivors.”
Giordano will be studying criminal justice and eventually become a criminal profiler. She found out about the scholarship while on an SOS and TAPS retreat with her parents as the three of them dealt with the grief that came with the loss of their son and her brother Richard, an Army sergeant who had died of natural causes in 2012 after serving tours in Afghanistan and Iraq.
“When I submitted my application I wrote about how the scholarship would have made my brother proud and how I could help the community of those who suffered from family losses like these,” she said. “If you know others who have gone through these same situations, try to connect and just be there for them.”