On Veterans Day, One Alumna Shares Her Story

November 11, 2016
Air Force Technical Sergeant Nancy Brothers

Technical Sergeant Nancy Brothers DS ’16 has always loved Wellesley’s motto, “Not to be ministered unto, but to minister,” and believes that the military provides many opportunities to follow it. Brothers joined the Air Force in 2004, worked for five years as an aircraft mechanic, and is now an intelligence analyst. She’s currently deployed to Kabul, Afghanistan, where she and her unit “support people who are going into harm’s way, and work to keep them safe,” she said.

Like many Americans this Veterans Day, Brothers is honoring the memory of service members who have died in the line of duty. “Especially because I’m in Afghanistan, I’ll be thinking about Paula Loyd [’95, a civilian anthropologist and former soldier], the only Wellesley alumna to die in the conflict. And I’ll be thinking about Spc. John Pelham, who served in the Army with one of my sisters, and was also killed here,” she said.

Brothers said she is grateful for the life lessons she has learned from members of the Wellesley community, who showed her unwavering support when she left the College in 2003 before finishing her degree, and when she returned several years later to complete her studies.

Brothers was born in Ft. Hood, Texas, and moved a lot with her three siblings and two Army parents. She said serving in the Air Force had been her goal since she was a teenager, and she came one step closer to realizing it when she received a ROTC scholarship to Wellesley, where she also had family ties: Her paternal grandmother is an alumna, and her great-grandmother taught in the economics department in the early 1900s.

When Brothers enrolled in 2000, majoring in Japanese and minoring in history, she hadn’t yet learned a crucial lesson that both the College and the military emphasize: Ask for help when you need it. In her junior year, she struggled academically, in part because of family issues, and was reluctant to trouble her friends or professors with her challenges, she said. At the end of her spring semester, she was asked to take an academic leave.

Shortly afterward, Brothers enlisted in the Air Force, where she felt a tremendous sense of camaraderie and shared purpose, she said. She later began taking occasional history courses at local colleges, all the while staying in touch with friends from Wellesley who were living in the D.C. area. “One of my old RAs pointed out that every time I hung out with them, I mentioned wanting to go back to the College,” said Brothers. “She said they didn’t care if I finished—I wouldn’t be any more or less Wellesley to them—but that given how often I brought it up, maybe finishing was important to me.”

In 2014, Brothers was admitted to the Davis Degree Program, which gives nontraditional students the support and flexibility they need to complete a degree. “Once I transferred all the credits I’d earned in 12 years at four different colleges, I realized I only needed two classes to graduate with a history major,” she said. “But I had to take my 300-level classes for my major at Wellesley.”

Brothers didn’t know how she would accomplish that, since she couldn’t take a sabbatical from the Air Force. But in typical Wellesley fashion, one of her alumna friends asked, “Have you considered all of the options? All of them?”

Brothers thought at first she meant taking a class via Skype. “I realized later that given my very generous vacation time (30 days a year) and the fact that I live near BWI airport, if I could find two history 300s on the same day, I could take the time off and commute to Boston once a week,” she recalled.

Brothers asked members of the Wellesley Community forum on Facebook what they thought about her plan and whether she should take the commuter rail or rent a car to get to campus from the airport. “I got so many useful responses, and in a very Wellesley moment, a complete stranger found me the on-time rates for the commuter rail,” she said.

Every Wednesday last spring, Brothers flew to Boston to attend classes, sometimes staying overnight at an alumna’s home. She graduated in May, and months later she was deployed to Afghanistan. “As a sergeant, a lot of my job is taking care of people, from helping them with administrative tasks to providing training and mentoring, to teaching an airman how to set up a Roth IRA,” she said.

Brothers said the support she’s received over the years from the Wellesley community—including care packages and online encouragement from fellow military members—makes her a better leader for the men and women in her unit, who work every day to keep Americans and their Coalition partner forces safe. “I work with amazing people, from such diverse backgrounds, who come together and accomplish difficult missions. Serving in the military is a great chance to make an impact,” she said.  

Wellesley ROTC and the Office of the Dean of Students invite the campus community to attend a Veterans Day Ceremony at 4 pm today outside Houghton Chapel