TOPEKA (KSNT) – Willa McGarity served our country as a sergeant in the U.S. Army for two decades.

She suffered a career-ending knee injury that cut her time in the military short but is proud of the service she was able to give. At first, McGarity didn’t believe she was cut out for the military.

“I used to hear my mother talk about volunteering and I’m like, I would never volunteer because I wanted to get paid,” McGarity said.

She soon realized monetary gain wasn’t everything and felt called for something more.

“Being able to give back and to serve is just an honor,” McGarity said.

With a newly found purpose for her life, Willa’s military career started in 1992, and was shipped off to basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. She trained as an E5 sergeant specialty truck driver.

“One of them was a stick shift so that was like my first time ever driving a stick so I messed up those gears big time,” McGarity said, laughing.

She learned through trial and error but felt encouragement along the way.

“It was just fun and exciting to learn that and the instructors were just very patient and understanding,” McGarity said.

After four of the most eye-opening years of her life, she made the difficult decision to leave the military and care for her sick mother. But she knew her time wasn’t done and returned to serve several tours across the U.S. and Korea, giving her opportunities to experience new lifestyles outside of her hometown in Texas.

“You got to hear different stories, everybody’s history that they brought, and just the camaraderie that we worked together as a team and had never seen each other before,” McGarity said.

After two decades in the Army, Willa was medically discharged because of a knee injury. She has some advice for others, regardless of how their journey looks.

“Follow your dream…follow your dream,” McGarity said.

Today, Willa uses the skills she learned in the military working for children and families in social work. She lives in Junction City with her family.

We’re highlighting veterans in our community every week just like Willa. If you’d like to nominate someone for our Veteran Salute Segment, please email with the subject line VETERAN SALUTE. Include the veteran’s name, military branch, rank, years of service, a short biography and a number to contact them.