Millitary provides a mean of discipline for some UW-Eau Claire students

Students at UW-Eau Claire find ways to balance the demands of the classroom with an active military life


Photo by Nick Erickson

GOAL IN MIND: Billy Schimmel spent two weeks this spring at an Army base in El Salvador. The criminal justice major hopes to one day work for the FBI or CIA.

Story by Nick Erickson, Staff Writer

In just a few shorts week, students will flock the library, campus quad or dorm lobbies to cram for final exams. There will be anxious moments, and maybe even some tears shed at the sheer volume of stress.

Billy Schimmel will be one of those students studying. But unlike the beginning stages of his college career, he will set himself apart from others by how disciplined his habits are.

Schimmel, a senior from Stewartville, Minn., has been an active member of the United States Army since June 14, 2012, the summer after his freshman year. Since then, he’s lived a military lifestyle by going to training once a month as well as being gone weeks at a time for operations, all while being a full-time student.

He said it not only has helped him gain a new sense of respect of his surroundings, but also to keep a level head in pressure situations.

“I know how to handle conflicts better, and I can reason and use rationale a lot easier to handle stressful moments in my life,” he said.

Schimmel, who enlisted as a private first class E3 as part of the engineering series, is now an E4. He is one of a handful of UW-Eau Claire students balancing the studying and honoring military commitments.

His reason for joining the Army was because he wanted to fill what seemed like a necessary requirement for a job he one day hopes to have.

As a criminal justice major, Schimmel didn’t feel joining the police force was entirely right for him. He wanted to work toward becoming an FBI or CIA agent, and after research, he discovered he’d probably have to join the military at some point to have his resume match with others in the business.

Because of basic training and his time last spring at Fort McCoy near Tomah, Schimmel had to be a part-time student in the spring of 2014.

“My education almost had to take a backseat, and the military took priority,” he said.

While his time management skills took a serious test, it’s a decision he is glad he made. He’s back to a full-time status with an anticipated graduation date next spring. He also went to El Salvador this spring for two weeks and goes back to Mankato, Minn., once a month for training.

Nursing major Katelyn Rasmussen, a private first class in the National Guard, wanted to join the military since high school, but her parents weren’t sure she was old enough to make that decision. A recruiter approached her while she was at Eau Claire last spring and talked her back into it.

Like Schimmel, she’s used her military experience to help her schooling. She’s a combat medic, which she expects to serve as an eye-popper on her resume when she applies for Eau Claire’s highly-competitive nursing school. Also like Schimmel, joining the military has made her learn a lot about herself.

“What it has taught me is dedication, persistence, how to work hard and how to not give up on things,” she said.

Schimmel and Rasmussen have the same goals as everybody who has or will eventually walk across the Zorn Arena stage with a diploma: put themselves in a prime position to get a job.

But their paths, along with the other military students, take a different route to graduation day.

Senior Eric Knutson, Schimmel’s roommate and friend for the last four years, has watched him grow a person. He said Schimmel’s experiences in the Army left basic training, Fort McCoy and El Salvador with him in his everyday life.

“He left as a normal college guy and came back as a mature adult,” Knutson said. “I can tell the military taught Bill discipline, and it really sped up the maturation process that most college students don’t get to experience.”

Schimmel, however, had a warning for future students who are on the fence on whether or not to call themselves a serviceman or woman. He said he hasn’t received some of his financial benefit he was once promised, and he doesn’t expect to see them either.

“It’s not a rash decision,” he said.

But for both Schimmel and Rasmussen, their military experience has enhanced their time as a Blugold. And, they both agree that their futures are better off for it.

“The goal is still there, and I’ve got a pretty good hold of it,” Schimmel said. “It’s opened the door and given me plenty of opportunities.”