It has been three years since Nicole Fleschute made the decision to transition from military to civilian life. No stranger to hard work, her journey from growing up in Virginia to serving in the United States Army to pursuing a bachelor’s degree in management from Hodges University has not been easy. Facing medical hardships along the way, her perseverance serves to inspire others to never give up.
A volunteer firefighter and emergency medical technician (EMT) while in high school, Fleschute enjoyed the idea of helping others. Preparing to graduate from high school, college was not an option, so instead, she joined the United States Army Reserves in October 2003.
“I couldn’t afford to go to college, and honestly, I wanted to get away from my hometown, so I enlisted in the Reserves,” she said.
Spending the next six months at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, she enrolled in basic combat training (BCT) and advanced individual training (AIT), which provides soldiers with the necessary training to pursue their trade. Fleschute served as a chemical specialist, operating decontamination and detection equipment, as well as engaging in drills focusing on the decontamination of people and tainted areas.
Over the next five years, she maintained her Reserve status, attending drill one weekend each month, which included performing inventory and decontamination drills.
“When I enlisted, my goal was go on active duty,” she said. In December 2009, she moved to active duty, which led her back to Fort Leonard Wood before receiving her deployment papers in January 2010. Receiving orders to report to Alaska, she only stayed for a few weeks before traveling to the National Training Center (NTC) at Fort Irwin, California, where she stayed from February to early April 2010.
It was during this time that her life changed. In early April, after sustaining a dislocated shoulder, doctors discovered a brain tumor, which they believed to have been present since birth. Having surgery to remove the tumor, she spent the next four months recovering before returning to Alaska in August 2010.
“When I returned to Alaska, I was placed in the Warrior Transition Unit (WTU) for one year,” she said. A WTU provides support to soldiers who are wounded or injured and need medical care. After her year in WTU, she returned to active status and served in rear detachment, which assists in providing the connection between the deployed unit and their families.
In July 2011, she married her husband, Bobby, whom she met prior to deploying to Alaska. “He stayed in Missouri for a few months, but in September of that year, he moved up to Alaska to be with me,” she said.
Still experiencing the effects of her brain surgery, Fleschute, at 27 years old, faced another difficulty when she began having issues with her back, which led to surgery in 2012. As a result of her medical injuries, Fleschute opted to leave the service, receiving a medical discharge in June 2013.
“After I got out of the service, Bobby and I left Alaska and traveled across the country, ending up in Baltimore,” she said. After a trip to visit Bobby’s mother in Florida, the two decided, in March 2014, to move to Southwest Florida.
It wasn’t long after their move that Fleschute began to consider returning to school. Receiving her associate degree in medical management from Ultimate Medical Academy, she knew she could return to school with the help of the military. Enrolling at DeVry University for a bachelor’s degree, she realized it was not providing her with the curriculum she needed to achieve her potential goal of working in human resources.
After discovering Hodges and learning about its small class sizes and personalized attention, she contacted the admissions office. “I spoke with Debbie Clark, and she was so incredibly nice and helpful. When I toured campus, I was greeted by many wonderful and friendly people,” she said.
Enrolling in the Johnson School of Business’ management program in January 2016, she had trouble making the transition. As a part of the wheel program, she had difficulty keeping up with the material and managing her time. “I didn’t do well my first semester here, but now I am taking my elective courses and once I have finished those, I can then enter into the wheel program,” she explained.
Fleschute is not alone in her struggle to transition. Christine Manson, director of the Dr. Peter Thomas Veterans Services Center (VSC) at Hodges, explains that many veterans who return to college have the same struggles. “These students have been accustomed to a life of structure while in the military. Once they are out of that structure, it becomes hard to instill that same discipline into their own lives. This makes it tough to adapt and difficult to stay motivated,” she said.
“Despite Nicole’s setbacks, she is definitely taking the right steps to getting back on track and getting her education,” Manson added. “Her situation is a prime example as to why the VSC created a mentoring program, to pair a veteran with a professional who will assist him or her in preparing for a desired career.”
Experiencing lasting effects from her surgeries, Fleschute is not giving up and has set a goal to graduate in the summer or fall of 2017. Expressing interest in working in human resources, she also has a desire to work with veterans. “I’ve dedicated my life to helping people; it is what makes me happy,” Fleschute said.
“I’m the first person in my family to earn a degree and that means so much to me. Being successful and self-sufficient is very important, and for those who want an education like me, do it and don’t be afraid to ask for help. You have earned the opportunity to go back to school and get an education.”