Nakole Hill Wooley was only 18 when she joined the National Guard. Now 27 and an Iraqi veteran, she is pursuing a social work degree at William Woods University in hopes of helping other soldiers and their families when she graduates in May.
“Being able to take my experience and relate is very important,” she said.
In preparation for her career, she is completing a 500-hour internship at the Ike Skelton Missouri National Guard Family Assistance Center. Her supervisor is Marsha Barber Thompson, a 2007 WWU social work graduate.
Wooley is one of 30 veterans currently enrolled at WWU. Most are in the Graduate & Adult Studies program, but two take classes on the Fulton campus. Wil Lawrence of New Bloomfield, Mo., has been to 24 countries during five years as a Marine and a member of the Missouri National Guard. He is studying psychology. Robert Weaver of Davidsville, Pa., has been a flight medical tech in the U.S. Air Force Reserves since 2006. He is freshman equestrian science major.
Wooley grew up in Bevier, Mo., near Macon, and graduated from high school in 2000. She left for basic training that August. In high school, she had shadowed the National Guard and decided then that she wanted to be one of them.
“They were the ones doing something—building, creating, moving dirt. I wanted to do something I would never do in the civilian world.”
She was the only female in a platoon of 50 men, which she says was “very interesting.”
As a civilian she worked in nursing home as a CNA (certified nurse assistant). In the National Guard, she was a heavy equipment operator, training one weekend a month and two weeks a year. She enjoyed it so much, she recruited her mother, who now serves full time in the National Guard.
In 2001, Wooley was sent to Germany for three weeks to build training sites and roads for soldiers to travel on.
When a plane flew into the Twin Towers on 9/11, everything changed. She said the National Guard was mobilizing soldiers to fill need and demand. She changed job skills and became a bridge crew member.
“We got mobilized to deploy to Iraq, but then we were sent home and later reactivated.”
In 2002, she went to Utah to provide security during the Olympics, which she called “a great mission.”
Three years later, she was sent to Kuwait and, after waiting a month for their equipment, they convoyed to southern Iraq, driving trucks she described as bigger than semis.
“It’s not like America,” she said. “The terrain, the smell, everything is different; from Bagdad south, everything is dead. All along the MSR (military supply route), kids were running out into the street, wanting things.”
She said she had some stuffed animals, gifts from the states, which she gave the children.
“Also, the Iraqi women wanted to touch our hair, and they didn’t understand lip gloss, which we wore because of the dry air.” She said the soldiers had to be careful “because you don’t know who’s good and who’s bad.”
They had to be particularly careful of IEDs (improvised explosive devices), homemade bombs used in unconventional warfare.
Wooley said the irony of her situation did not escape her.
“I had worked in a nursing home helping people, but then I found myself in Iraq, carrying a weapon, an M16, ready to fire at people.”
Wooley’s job was to build bridges to replace those that were blown up.
They took fire one time when they were putting in a float bridge. They were providing security at the site and taking turns sleeping in the truck for four hours at a time.
“I was sleeping sitting up with my battle gear on, and I heard a pop, pop, pop. We scrambled for cover.”
She also said, “The chow hall (dining facility) was shut down at various times because of fear of explosives.”
She said her “battle buddy” and she wrote letters and gave each other contact information in case something were to happen.
“You don’t think about it; you’re performing at a higher sensitivity. I did call home a lot. I wanted to cry, but I didn’t.”