Michelle Nichols' eight years in the U.S. Army were not typical by any stretch.
The now 29-year-old looks back on her eight years in service and considers it a learning experience.
"I started out as an animal care specialist, stationed at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, near Joint Base Lewis-McChord, (Washington)" said Nichols. "I had done basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, then Fort Sam Houston to learn to be a 68 Tango (animal care specialist). I had the very unusual experience being the only soldier in billets filled mostly by sailors and a few Marines."
That experience lasted two years, after which she went to Fort Lee, Virginia, to re-class as an 89 Bravo, ammunition handling specialist. Nichols's first assignment after that was a year in Korea.
"I loved it," she said. "It took some adjusting, but once I got my bearings, I got a chance to get out, meet the locals, try the food, take in the sights. Korea is an incredible country."
After Korea, she found herself returning to Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington State. There, she was granted more responsibility and authority.
"I made my Sergeant (E-5) stripes," she said. "I then became a career counselor representative for my company. I really enjoyed that. After that, I found out I was going to be medically discharged. I was then reassigned to the unit where I prepared to leave the service."
Looking back on her time in the Army, she recalls much in the way of life lessons. And from those, she has wisdom to impart to those thinking of joining the military service.
"Be open minded," Nichols said. "Do your research before you join, know what you are getting into. For those who do join, be flexible. Be ready and willing, at any moment, to be ready for anything. Bring a pocketful of patience, for there will be plenty of folks helping themselves to said pocket."
Ultimately, she sees the service as a good thing.
"It can be good for those who go in with the right attitude," Nichols said. "Know some of the hazards. Like any large organization, there will be politics, you will be dealing with a bureaucracy. It is not always fun and games."
Now, she is a student at Texas A&M University-Texarkana studying early elementary education with a concentration in special education.