Student Profile: Iraq War Veteran Returns to School at MassBay
Growing up in North Brookfield, Mass., Kelly Ratcliffe was told by her teachers and guidance counselor that she wasn’t smart enough to go to college.
“I think it was just a small town thing,” she says now. “They had my mom, and then my sister, and then me in their classes, and they just didn’t think I could do it. I also didn’t really try in high school. I hated school.”
When she graduated in 1996, she had a discussion with her father about her career choices that changed her life forever.
“He told me that I am a kind and caring person, and that I would make a good police officer,” she says. She knew then that she wanted to be a police officer, but in Massachusetts the age requirement to become an officer is 21. “I have never been patient,” Kelly says with a smile.
She decided to enlist in the Army, scoring high enough on the entrance exam to qualify for Military Police training. It was the beginning of an 8+ year odyssey that led her around the globe, facing adversity, combat, injury, and ultimately “one of the best things I ever did.”
Kelly, now 33, spent eight months in basic training in Ft. McClellan, Alabama before being assigned to Fort Carson in Colorado Springs, CO from 1998 - 2000. During that time she was deployed to Hungary for six months and then to Bosnia for eight months. Her duties as a Military Police (MP) officer included patrol, base security, route recon and security, and gate security.
In 2001, she deployed to Camp Page in South Korea, which is where she was stationed when the twin towers in New York City were attacked on 9/11. As a result of the attacks the U.S. armed forces instituted a stop-loss policy, a wartime policy that delays the discharge of every military personnel.
“I was intending to reenlist anyway,” says Kelly, so rather than extend her current tour she chose to reenlist for another four years.
She enrolled in MP investigator school for two months in Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri, “Kind of like CSI, it was very cool!” She was then assigned to Ft. Stewart, GA. Her next deployment was Baghdad.
In March 2003, Kelly was sent to Sadar City, Iraq, just north of Baghdad International Airport – one of the most dangerous places in the world at that time. For a year as an MP, she patrolled the city in eight hour shifts, provided security at the base camp, and she helped perform one of the critical duties of the operation: training and establishing the Iraqi police force. “We basically let go of the old police force and set up a structure and trained them to police their country themselves.”
Following her first tour, Kelly was redeployed to Tikrit, Iraq for another year in January 2005. “We were very fortunate,” she says. “We only lost one soldier in my company during my first tour, and one in my second – both great Soldiers who will never be forgotten.” Although, she notes, there were many injuries sustained – including her own.
By January 2006, Kelly’s time in the Army was up. She had suffered several injuries to her left knee, which required surgery upon her return from Iraq. The injury, as it turned out, not only ended her stint in the military, but it curtailed her career goal of being a police officer stateside.
“Being in the Army taught me discipline, gave me direction, and I met a lot of great people,” she says. “I traveled the world, had some not-so-good experiences as well, but it definitely was a good thing for me.”
Kelly was discharged from the Army after 8 ½ years on July 8, 2006 and moved back home to North Brookfield. Like many returning soldiers she struggled to adapt back into civilian life, and she was also trying to find her way now that her original career aspiration of becoming a police officer was no longer possible.
She moved to Framingham and took a job on the 3rd shift (overnight) as an operator for Phillips Lifeline (“It’s the `I’ve fallen and I can’t get up’ people,” Kelly explains with a laugh.). She’s been doing it for 5 ½ years and estimates their call center receives about 1,500 calls each night. It was her supervisor who pushed her to go to college.
“She told me that it was the people who told me I wasn’t smart enough for college that weren’t smart,” she recalls. “She said I should at least try it, and if it doesn’t work out I could leave.” That was 1 ½ years ago.
She started in the Information Systems Technology Associate Degree program, but decided it wasn’t for her. She’s now pursuing her Associate’s in Business Administration. Because of the Post- 9/11 GI Bill, Kelly receives money for housing, and her tuition, fees and books are also covered.
“The professors here are so supportive of Veterans. They understand that we have underlying situations about why we’re missing class. I experience severe migraines sometimes, and even though I want to be here more than anything, sometimes I just can’t be,” she says. “The professors here really care, and that’s what keeps me coming back.”
Kelly also appreciates having The Bunker, an on-campus resource center reserved for Veterans on the Wellesley Hills campus. “It’s phenomenal, having a place like that to go. Sometimes just walking through the cafeteria is overwhelming, and The Bunker is such a calming, silent space for me to escape from everything. I use that facility as much as possible, and I tell every Veteran I meet in my classes about it too.”
Kelly is still working at Phillips Lifeline on the overnight shift, midnight – 6:30 am, while taking four classes per semester. She says she sleeps during the day, after classes. “It’s like I’m going to night school during the day, but I find that a lot of Veterans like me sleep better during the day.”
“I’m not really sure where I am going to end up,” says Kelly. “But I know my experience at MassBay is going to help me along the way.”
To learn more about Veterans services offered at MassBay, attend our Veterans back to school night this evening at 5:30 pm on our Wellesley Hills campus, 50 Oakland Street. More information about Veterans benefits, services, and our academic programs can be found at www.massbay.edu/veterans.
MassBay awards associate degrees and certificates in over 60 academic programs in a wide range of career-driven subjects ranging from accounting and automotive technology to forensic DNA science and early childhood education. The College’s facilities in Wellesley Hills, Framingham and Ashland house day, evening and weekend classes that meet the needs of degree-seeking students and career minded life-long learners. Online options provide convenience and allow faculty to facilitate the learning process. Since its founding in 1961, MassBay has been accredited by several governing bodies and strives to meet the needs of the diverse local communities it serves.
Kelly Ratcliffe is pursuing an Associate Degree in Business Administration. She is scheduled to graduate in spring 2014. An Iraq War Veteran, she lives in Framingham.