She’s fourth-generation military. A student veteran. A counselor in charge of a combat stress clinic. And a survivor of the tragic 2009 shooting at Fort Hood. Many call her Staff Sgt. Brossard, some even “Sergeant Smells Good.” But most days she just wants to be called “Nicolle.”
Last year, Army veteran Nicolle Brossard ’13 was in Afghanistan counseling fellow soldiers on traumatic loss, sleep deprivation, family issues and smoking cessation. Now she’s a nutrition major at UNCG, settling back into life as a civilian and doing the hard work to overcome post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a condition brought on by the Fort Hood incident that took many close friends. A best friend.
Since coming to UNCG, Nicolle has been embraced by the campus community. Veteran Services coordinator Dedrick Curtis. Josh Green in the Dean of Students Office. Professor Amy Strickland, who helped develop the right path for her career goals. And Chancellor Linda P. Brady, who appointed Nicolle to the Military, Veterans and Families Task Force and supports her work for the Student Veterans Association.
Even so, reintegration, as she calls it, hasn’t been easy.
Triggers all around
“With PTSD, there are triggers everywhere. People I don’t know. Small rooms without many entry or exit points. Laser pointers in the classrooms. It’s been challenging, but it’s also helping me overcome it.”
The incident at Fort Hood is a huge part of the 29-year-old’s life. But remember, this is not just Staff Sgt. Brossard; this is Nicolle. A sister to five brothers. The daughter of a mother stricken with brain cancer. The woman who has already earned one degree, a bachelor’s in psychology from Pacific University, and who is ok with having to work hard for what she wants. There’s more to her story, and, she hopes, to her legacy. “Five minutes ago I was flying around in helicopters to major human tragedies. Is that going to be my legacy? No. There’s more. I’m figuring that out and going after it.”
Though her experience is in counseling, she’s making a shift toward another passion – nutrition, specifically obesity. And there’s an interesting connection. “Obesity is one of the biggest issues facing the Army. With obesity trends in America being what they are, by the year 2030, we won’t have enough healthy people to fill our armed forces.”
The post-graduation plan she took to Amy Strickland before she even started her first course is intense. It includes the Military-Baylor Masters Program in Nutrition, officer candidate school, a year-long dietetics internship and four more years of active duty.
There’s a real need for nutrition expertise in the Army, Nicolle explains. And it encompasses much more than weight management. Lactation nutrition for pregnant military members and spouses, for example. Also, understanding the different kinds of nutrients needed in environments like an Afghan desert.
“That experience will be a good gateway if I want to work for the National Institutes of Health or the USDA to affect policy change. But I love to work one-on-one with people, too.”
And what about that nickname?
Indeed, working with people is a strength. Her intensity is balanced with her desire to help others and a softer side that goes beyond her knack for smelling nice even in combat (thus the nickname “Sergeant Smells Good”). Her authenticity earns trust. Her positive attitude wins respect. And her service earns high recognition — 14 awards as a matter of fact, including the National Defense Service Medal, the Global War on Terrorism service medal and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Medal.
One award means the most to her.
“The thing I’m most proud of from deployment isn’t the awards I received,” she says. “It’s the ‘Certificate of Happiness’ created by my fellow soldiers just for me. It’s one thing to earn the recognition of those above you, but to earn it from your peers is a major sign of respect.”
Photography by Chris English, University Relations