Army Medicine is Army Strong, and one of Army Medicine’s newest nurse practitioners has proven how Army Strong she is. How far would you go to make your dreams come true; how long would you be willing to wait, and what sacrifices would you make? For Capt. Ifeatu Enemmuo, her dream of becoming a Soldier was a long and difficult road that took more than 30 years to complete, but through it all she never gave up.
Growing up in Nigeria, 19-year-old Iffy, as she is known, wanted one thing in life; to become a Soldier. Attending an all-girls high school that was affiliated with the Nigerian Army, Iffy saw most of her classmates enlist into the Nigerian Army right after graduation. She attempted to do the same, but going to the recruitment office on her own without the support of her parents or older brothers in a very patriarchal Nigerian society did not produce the outcome she wanted. Undaunted by this first rejection, Iffy learned that she would have a better chance of joining the Nigerian Army on her own if she pursued higher education. The Nigerian Army at the time was mostly male, but recruiting challenges and the need for professionals, specifically in the medical field, opened more opportunities for females. Although Iffy earned straight A’s in high school, she had always intended on joining the army right after graduation and had not prepared for the college entrance exams. As a result, she was required to take another two and half years of classes before she was accepted into nursing school.
While in her last year of nursing school, Iffy fell in love, and was married to her best friend of two years, Vitalis, who goes by the nickname Prof (as in professor). “Prof was my best friend for over two years long before we were married,” said Iffy. “He knew from day one that the one thing I wanted to do was to join the Army and was very supportive of my goals.” However, her new father-in-law did not have the same supportive outlook as his son and expected his new daughter-in-law to fulfill the traditional role of a Nigerian wife to stay home and raise his future grandchildren. When Iffy tried to join the Nigerian Army after her marriage, her father-in-law contacted the local recruiting office and directed them not to recruit his daughter-in-law. “I hold no ill will toward my father-in-law,” said Iffy, “he was following expected Nigerian culture, and in that male driven society, the recruiter would not allow me to join ending my dream to join the Nigerian Army.”
Over the next several years Iffy temporally set her dream of becoming a Soldier aside and focused on starting a family and her job as a nurse at a local teaching hospital. However, struggles with infertility, in a society where raising a large family is of the utmost importance, drove Iffy and her husband to seek new opportunities outside Nigeria. Iffy began to prepare for the Commission on Graduates of Foreign Nursing Schools (CGFNS) exam that would allow her to practice nursing in the United States and provide her with an employment visa. “This exam is very expensive and very difficult to pass,” stated Iffy, “I asked my eldest brother for the money to take the exam and Vitalis warned me that if I did not pass, I would probably not get another chance to take the exam.” Vitalis was very supportive. “Though he was not taking the exam, he studied with me, stayed awake most nights studying and teaching. Sometimes he would cook and bring food for me at the library on the days I was too busy to go home for food.” After an additional six months of preparation, Iffy and 15 other nurses traveled to the neighboring country of Ghana to take the exam where she was the only one out of the 16 to pass.
Iffy soon found employment at a hospital in New York City, where she and her husband settled. In the weeks that followed, Iffy found herself busy with the hospital in-processing and education requirements for her new job that were made more difficult by frequent bouts of illness that Iffy concluded was due to the unfamiliar food. “I was sick all the time and could not keep anything down,” recounts Iffy, “I was telling my husband that my body did not like this highly processed American food, and I was struggling through the six weeks of classroom training that I was required to take before I could start my new job.” Eventually, the prolonged weeks of illness caught up with Iffy when she collapsed in class and woke up in the emergency room. After running several tests and labs, the emergency room doctor came into the room with news for Iffy and her husband. “The doctor looked at me and told me that I was pregnant,” said Iffy. “My husband and I both stared at him in disbelief and shock, we both were in complete denial because we had tried for so long and had suffered so many miscarriages that in my mind, being pregnant was completely out of the question.” Iffy was, indeed, eight weeks pregnant and considered high risk, so she was placed on bedrest. This proved a challenge, as a condition of her work visa required her to take, and pass, the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) within one year. The process to take the exam in New York was going to take far too long when coupled with Iffy’s pregnancy, but a friend in California let her know that the process was much quicker in that state. Iffy was able to use her time on bed rest to study for the exams and delivered a healthy baby boy ChukwuEmekalum, which means God has shown me favor, in 2006. When Emakalum was six weeks old Iffy traveled to California to take her exams. Having passed her exams and unable to find work in New York, Iffy and her family relocated to northern California.
The next several years were good for Iffy and her family, “I felt lucky, blessed and favored by God,” said Iffy. She was working as a supervisory behavioral health nurse and was blessed with two more children. She had not forgotten about her dream to be a Soldier, but she was content with her life in the United States. After a time, the Enemmuo family planned a long-overdue trip to Nigeria to introduce their children to their grandparents and extended family. Their flight to Nigeria was unexpectedly delayed in Amsterdam, where a chance encounter with a U.S. Army officer rekindled her dream of becoming a Soldier.
“My kids were very tired and crying from the long flight, and my husband and I were having a bit of trouble containing them,” recalled Iffy. “This man came out of nowhere in the Amsterdam airport and asked if we needed some help. He noticed that both Vitalis and I were exhausted trying to quiet the children. I am very protective of my children and assured him that we were fine, but he sat down next to us and after a while we began to chat. He told me he was in the United States Army and, as I eventually recounted my story to him, he asked why I had not tried to join the U.S. Army. I told him that I wasn’t aware that was an option for me, and to make long story short he gave me a phone number for a recruiter in the New York area where he was from. We parted ways, and I felt he was sent by God to remind me whom I was meant to be.”
When Iffy and her family returned from Nigeria after a two-month visit, she called the number that the officer had given her and was connected to a California recruiter. Little did she know that this phone call would start a series of events that would last several years and result in major changes in her life. After a brief conversation, the recruiter recommended that Iffy get her bachelor’s degree in nursing as the first step toward joining the U.S. Army. With her dream of becoming a Soldier rekindled, Iffy poured herself into her schoolwork. Still working full time and raising three young children, she completed her bachelor’s degree with a 3.58 grade point average in less than a year, and called the recruiting office again.
“I called the same number, but it was, of course, a different person who answered,” said Iffy. “The conversation began just as it had before, but this time I was able to tell the recruiter that I had a bachelor’s degree in nursing. We continued on the phone for a bit, and he said that he needed to get some basic screening questions out of the way. He asked if I was a U.S. citizen, how long had I been in the country, things like that, but when he asked my height and weight, I replied that I currently weighed 306 pounds. You have to understand that I did not know anything about being in the U.S. Army, I had no idea that there were height and weight, and physical fitness requirements.” The recruiter informed Iffy that unless she was able to lose a considerable amount of weight, she could not even be considered for the army. Devastated by the news, Iffy hung up the phone. For the first time since coming to the United States, Iffy felt that old sense of failure that had always troubled her back in Nigeria. Not one to let a temporary set-back get her down, Iffy resolved, with help from Vitalis, to lose the weight and try again with the recruiter. She joined a local gym, hired a personal trainer, and focused on her diet and eating habits. Wanting to make sure her weight loss was permanent, and this active lifestyle would become a lifelong habit, it took Iffy three years to lose over 150 pounds and become physically fit enough to join the U.S. Army.
The year was 2016 and Iffy, about to celebrate her 42nd birthday, once again called the recruiter. This time she was invited to come into the recruiting office for a meeting where the recruiter finished her paperwork and sent it off to be processed. Iffy waited with anticipation for the call from the recruiter that would send her to a Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS) and begin the commissioning process. However, when the recruiter called, he stated that the age cutoff for commissioning was 42, and that Iffy was not eligible for an age waiver. “I asked him what will make me eligible for an age waiver and he told me I would qualify if I had a doctorate degree,” said Iffy. Facing another setback, Iffy was ready to give up, but through it all, Vitalis encouraged her to continue. “Prof told me that, I had already done so much, and if this is what I really wanted, then I should get my doctorate, and try again,” said Iffy. “I was still not convinced and asked him what we would do if they told me I still couldn’t join. He said, “Then you know that you gave it your best. Even if it was not enough, be happy that you still came out of this with your doctorate in nursing and a much healthier lifestyle.” I couldn’t argue with his logic, so I enrolled in a doctorate program and went back to school again.” Over the next three years, while working full time and raising her family, Iffy completed her doctorate degree, with a 4.0 grade point average and received an award for her doctoral dissertation.
For the fourth time, Iffy made her way to the recruiting office armed with her newly earned doctorate degree and little standing in her way, except the COVID-19 pandemic. “During this whole process I learned that it can take some time for things to process in the military,” said Iffy. “I had to submit multiple rounds of paperwork, and work through several recruiters moving to a new duty assignment while having to explain my situation to their replacement. While all of this was going on, COVID-19 hit and brought everything to a standstill.”
Iffy and her recruiter spent all of 2020 working to get her packet to the commissioning board, which she eventually passed, and ensured that her age waiver and other requirements were met. The next two years were spent waiting on Iffy’s age waiver. Discouraged, and fearing that the Army would not take her, she began to look at the Air Force and Navy as a backup plan. “For whatever reason, the Air Force would not take me, but the Navy accepted my paperwork right away,” Iffy said. “I was offered a commission as a Navy Lieutenant with an assignment to Okinawa Japan. I felt that I should be grateful but was not completely committed to serving in the Navy.” Once again Vitalis offered a piece of advice that helped her through this tough time. “My husband’s advice is always helpful to me,” she said. “He told me not to settle for plan B, I don’t want you to join the Navy if you are not going to be happy. Because all of us will suffer from your unhappiness. If the Army is what you want, then pray and wait.” Three weeks before she was to report for duty with the Navy, Iffy finally received the call from the Army that her age waiver had been accepted. She quickly declined the commission from the Navy and worked through the next few months to finalize her Army commissioning paperwork and orders.
After years of praying, working, and waiting, on Oct. 12 2022, Iffy received her orders from the U.S. Army to report to the AMEDD Direct Commissioning Course at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.
“What made me want to join the Army was the discipline, the brotherhood, the Soldiers themselves, the way they look after each other,” said Iffy, when asked why the Army was so important to her. “Even in Nigeria with all the corruption in the government, if anything happens to one Soldier it happens to all of them, and they take care of each other. It is the main thing that attracted me to the Army, that if you go through something, you know you will not go through it alone. I can also say that it has been my dream since I was 19 years old, and when it was first denied to me in Nigeria, it only made me want it even more, so here I am at age 49 achieving something I could not achieve at age 19.”
“My advice to young women that chose to follow in my footsteps is that nothing good in life is going to get handed to you on a silver platter, you must work hard to achieve your goals, even if it takes you 30 years. Don’t give up on your dream, no matter how difficult it is, no matter how impossible it is, no matter how long it takes, as long as you keep doing your best, and keep giving your best effort.”
Capt. Enemmuo is currently completing her Basic Officer Leadership Course at Fort Sam Houston, Texas and upon completion will be assigned to Fort Jackson, South Carolina.