Iraq War Veteran Adapts, Excels to Graduate CSU with Honors

COLUMBUS, Ga. - Graduation Saturday at Columbus State University will be savored heartily, but briefly, by decorated Iraq war veteran and finance major Ashley Todd.

AshleyAn Army reservist on alert for redeployment, she has reached this milestone at a furious pace, completing seven courses (21 credit hours) in one semester to graduate cum laude (3.4-plus GPA).

Ive been awaiting this moment, said Todd, left. I cant wait to hear my name called.

Just three days after the Dec. 16 commencement, she and fiance, Giles Nelson on his birthday will exchange wedding vows and prepare to relocate to Fort Pickett, Va., with their 17-month-old daughter and an 8-year-old daughter from his previous marriage.

The two served together in the same Decatur, Ga.-based reserve company, through which they experienced a 14-month tour of duty in Kuwait and committed to one another upon returning home in 2004. While Todd returned to college, Nelson re-enlisted for active duty and was assigned to Montgomery, Ala., as an Army motor pool sergeant.

I knew Giles would be soon be receiving his reassignment orders, so I needed to graduate this fall, said Todd, a 23-year-old native of Irwinton, Ga.

Todd rented a Columbus apartment in order to attend classes daily from early morning through early evening, while managing 2-3 trips per week back to the couples Montgomery home.

Todd credited her ability to adapt and excel to her military training that also led to her earning an Army Commendation Medal, recognizing noncombatant-related heroism during service. At Kuwaits Camp Wolfe, she welcomed soldiers entering the Iraq theater for the first time and briefed them on the environment they were to face. She also sorted mail, performed armed-guard duty and handled unit supply issues. I was extremely blessed. I never received fire or was in the midst of a dangerous situation, she said. But we had to keep our guard up, because you never knew what might happen.

Todd said the experience drew her company together like a family whose members remain in tune with one anothers difficulties. Luckily none of us was hurt in combat; however, several us have faced serious adjustment problems since coming home, ranging from nightmares to unemployment and divorce.

Ironically, the experience that bonded Todd and Nelson, destroyed several marriages of close friends in their unit whose spouses had stayed home. This looms profoundly with the couple. No longer in the same military unit, they know they now face the possibility of a similar separation.

They already have endured challenges and tough decisions together, including having a baby and Nelsons voluntary move active duty sacrificing his career as an independent insurance contractor.

While Todd arranges to relocate to Virginia with Nelson and their daughters, shell search the area for a job incorporating management and financial consulting, and eventually pursue a masters degree.

As the challenge of forging a professional, civilian career lies ahead with the uncertainties of wartime military service, Todd reflects on her accomplishments to date, crediting her fianc. I wouldnt have made it through this semester without him.