Six-year Army LPN Nealy Gonzalez looks toward Blue Ridge graduation as Registered Nurse

 

BRCC News | Published November 6, 2019

Portrait of Nealy Gonzalez

Nealy Gonzalez, a U.S. Army veteran and mother of three, is continuing her education at Blue Ridge Community College where she expects to graduate in May 2020 as a Registered Nurse.  

The decision to join the military was made two months into her senior year of high school during 9/11. Believing there’d be a shortage of flight attendants following the attack, Gonzalez considered being a flight attendant, but was dissuaded from this career by her sister, who feared for her life. Instead, Gonzalez took the ASVAB exam on a whim, and performed very well. This unlocked numerous career options for her to choose from and ultimately kickstarted her career in the military.

“In the Army, I had a full-time job that was paying me far more than any other 18-year-old was getting paid at the time. They train you and really prepared me for the role I wanted as a Licensed Practical Nurse,” she said.

She served in the Army for six years. Her military career began at basic training in South Carolina, and over the years served in Michigan, Texas, Oklahoma, Georgia and was deployed to Iraq.

She laughed that working in the hospital in Iraq afforded her the one thing she could always count on during wartime: air conditioning.

In addition to instilling a sense of pride in her work, Gonzalez credits the military with teaching her discipline and for helping her start a career in a field she loves.

 The 35-year-old is originally from Michigan. She met her husband, William, in the Army, and the pair were looking for a new state to live in after William had been medically retired. Nealy said an important factor they always looked for in each state was having ample access to veteran resources, which ultimately led them to Asheville.

By this point, the two had started having children, and they chose the Hendersonville area not only because of its proximity to Charles George V.A. Medical Hospital in Asheville, but also because Hendersonville was just the right size to grow a family rather than a large city.

The fact that both she and William have medical backgrounds makes navigating the complex network comprising Veterans Affairs much easier.

One thing that recently caught her eye was the creation of a Veterans Club at Blue Ridge Community College. Formed by U.S. Navy vet and U.S. Marine vet Jared LaFave and Michael Hicks, respectively, the organization is hosting its first meeting on Friday, Nov. 8. Gonzalez believes the organization will offer a great outlet for Blue Ridge veterans to meet other veterans, talk about problems only fellow veterans would understand and navigate V.A. resources.

“All veterans need to check with the Financial Aid office to see what resources they have available to them because of their veteran status,” she said. “Having someone in the Veterans Club to speak with who’s been through the processes here at College or knows how to navigate them is a great resource for any vet as well.”

Gonzalez exited the military in 2008, and said it took her six years to start looking into courses at Blue Ridge to further her education in her post-Army life.

As Veterans Day draws near, this mother of three doesn’t have any extravagant plans for Nov. 11 other than spending it with her family. She said she tries to attend most veteran events hosted at Blue Ridge, and expressed her gratitude to the college for its steadfast support of veterans.

“I enjoy going to this school. We appreciate that Blue Ridge appreciates veterans,” she said. “Veterans Day is great because it draws our attention to all of the sacrifices made to give us the freedoms we enjoy. Not everyone passes away, but everyone loses something.”

For more information on the Blue Ridge Veterans Club, contact LaFave at J_lafave@blueridge.edu or (828) 694-1833. You can also reach the Blue Ridge V.A. Certifying Official, Crystal Smith, at cc_smith@blueridge.edu or (828) 694-1815.

Both want to encourage all veterans to come to the Veterans Club meeting on Friday, Nov. 8 at 1 p.m. in TEDC 236.