Crystal Rains Jennings made the decision to serve her country nearly two years before she graduated from Johnston City High School.
"I joined the Army Reserve Unit out of Marion in 1979," said Jennings from her hospital bed in Marion's Heartland Regional Medical Center.
After successful enlistments in the Reserves as well as the Regular Army, Jennings returned to southern Illinois, married, and raised a family. She found a second career in the Williamson County Assessor's office and even returned to school to obtain additional licensing.
Then health problems struck. Jennings was forced into early retirement after a major back surgery. "I had a 6-inch metal bar and six screws placed in my spine," she said.
In 2011, Jennings was diagnosed with Stage III Squamous Cancer. "It was in my right lymph node," she said. "My doctors tried finding the source." In fact, Jennings underwent a series of biopsies. Doctors removed several parts of her mouth, her right tonsil, and a wedge from her right lung.
"They never did find the source of exactly where the cancer came from," she said. "By the time I went into surgery in Springfield to have my right lymph node removed, the cancer, that they said was very aggressive, had gone to my left side as well."
After a 10-hour surgery and 34 radiation treatments, Jennings said doctors have told her she is now free of cancer. However, health issues continue to plague her.
"Right now, I'm Stage IV COPD," she said.
According to the Mayo Clinic website, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is a chronic inflammatory lung disease that causes obstructed airflow from the lungs. It is caused by long-term exposure to irritating gases or particulate matter. While it is treatable, it is not curable.
Last month, Jennings was told her current lung function is about 28 percent. "I am giving this to God," she wrote on her Facebook.
That's when her longtime friend, Pamela Harris stepped in. Harris also suffers from COPD. When her pulmonologist told her she was "at the end of the road," Harris got out her laptop and began looking for options.
She found the Lung Institute in Nashville, Tennessee.
The institute is performing cutting edge treatments using the patient's own stem cells. While not a cure, it's definitely a palliative treatment.
Harris was on oxygen and barely living before her transplant.
"That was two years ago," said Harris. "It's not a cure, but it does extend your life and make it worth living."
Harris believes her experience has led her to helping others. The "others" in this case, is her "best pal of 30 years," Jennings.
Jennings found out last week that she qualifies for the treatment. The only obstacle is the $8,500 price tag that is not covered by insurance.
Harris began a gofundme for her friend. "She wouldn't have started anything like that for herself," she said. "She's not that type of person. So I just did it."
The girl whose Army career included expert medals for firing an M-16, awards for road rally driving, several letters of accommodation, and awards for relays, says she is "just simply amazed and overwhelmed" that people have stepped up to help.
"They've raised over $600 in just two days," she said.
While that still leaves nearly $8,000 to reach the goal, Harris believes it will "get done."
"She's a very selfless person who would do anything for anybody," she said. "I think God saved me so I could guide other people."
As for Jennings, she said she has "given it to God and he He has sent his angels."
Sometimes God works in mysterious ways.
To donate to Jennings' treatment, visit gofundme.com/4o9lrt4.