Military ombudsman Kathy Oliverio helps a very important group – our military members past and present and their families – transition to college. This Veterans Day, she shares a story about a soldier-turned-student.
Many of our students choose to go back to school a little later in life. We call those students “non-traditional.”
Nicole “Nikki” Ackerman is a non-traditional student. She is also a mom, a sister, a daughter, a friend, and at one time in her life, a soldier. That would make her a “non-traditional female” as well. In the United States, only .007% of women between the ages of 20-35 choose to join the military.
Ackerman joined the Army in 1995 and served for four years as a Military Policeman. Like many in the military, she was able to “see the world.” Unfortunately, the parts of the world she was able to see weren’t your typical tourist destinations.
Between 1995-1999, Ackerman was stationed in such glamorous places as Fort McClellan, Ala., and Fort Polk, La. She also traveled to Bosnia during the Allied Forces involvement in the Bosnian War.
“I liked Bosnia.It may have been a war-torn country but it was still beautiful,” Ackerman recalled. “Land mines were everywhere, but it was still beautiful to look at.”
Being a female military member can be challenging. Women make up about 20 percent of today’s force. Ackerman related that the worst part of being a female in the Army was “being treated like a girl.” She said that she felt she was a “soldier first, everything else later.”
The deployments and loss of time spent with family took their toll and Ackerman left the Army in 1999. Missing the camaraderie and esprit de corps that is found in few places other than the military, she decided to join the Army Reserves in 2007 as a medic.
Soon after signing up, Ackerman was sent to “play in the sand.” This is a phrase that many military members say when they are deployed to the Middle East.
When asked about serving in Iraq, she said it was “not so bad.” She was deployed to Balad, Iraq. Some soldiers refer to that assignment as being in “Disneyland” only with mortar attacks.
The city had many amenities like coffee shops and entertainment. You just had to watch your back whenever you went off base. Ackerman related that a local coffee shop was “taken out” shortly after she left. Nikki revealed there was one perk she enjoyed about being a higher-ranked enlisted female soldier in Iraq: She didn’t have a roommate.
In 2009, while stationed at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, Ackerman made the decision that when the deployment ended she would go back to school. The summer of 2010 was her first semester. In 2012, she made the decision to voluntarily enter the Individual Ready Reserve and put her military career on hold to focus solely on school and her now-teenage daughter.
The transition from military service to UALR student hasn’t always been an easy one. “We are not as young as they [traditional students] are, but we have experienced and know more than they will ever know.”
This can be said about military students who are the same age as “traditional” aged students. Ackerman goes on to caution, “Don’t ask if we killed anyone. That will not get you an answer.”
She added, “Don’t look at us as broken because we’re not all broken. Not all veterans are broken. Be patient. If they [veterans] ask for help, give it to them. Be a ‘Good Samaritan’ and help them out.”
This non-traditional student’s plans are simple: Graduate from UALR in less than five years. A degree, Ackerman said, will start her “on the path” to becoming a screenwriter. She said that an MFA degree in screenwriting may be a possibility. She is going to go wherever life takes her.
For now, life has brought her to UALR.