Transition to college freshman for Col. Nerges

Today, an “old school letter” written by John Nerges about his transition experience at college, after 3o years of military service.

John Nerges on duty and in uniformIt’s traditional only in that it was a hand written response to a conversation on the process of change. It’s up to speed and ‘uber now’ as it was delivered via email after a chat on social media and as a result of  Rose Nerges‘posted a guest web blog entry on Military Success Network.

Now, a lifetime of experience for one man, in one field, is in transition to new areas. New or simply without the opportunity before? You decide as Col. (Ret.) John Nerges shares his experience…. in his own words……


I am reading The Prince by Machiavelli. This is fabulous. My whole career has been dedicated to science. Literature didn’t do much for my patients at the time I was caring for them. Yet, it is all so familiar to me.  You know, he dedicates a paragraph to Army Life.

I’ve gone back to school after 30 years in the Army, where I served first as a medic and then as a critical care nurse.

I lost my way in 2003-2004 caring for incredibly wounded casualties of war both in Iraq and in Washington DC. I never really found it again and retired last August.

John on coffee breakI made a joke to a friend that I was going back to college to study music, literature and art to restore my humanity. I was kidding when I said that. It just came out of me, thoughtlessly.

Turns out it was my inspiration…to go back to school and restore my humanity that I lost in bloody bandages and morgue trips. This time, I would only study things I didn’t already know.

Every ’50 something’ person I used to work with said what I am doing has been their dream. That surprised me. Everybody, and I don’t use that word lightly, said it was a good idea to back to school

Now I study music, literature and art. I am a 51-year-old freshman. Trust me, it’s harder than it looks but the pay-off is huge. Plus, I have great stories to tell and telling them sort of heals me. It also keeps me humble and I really need that.

It was inspiration. I have no idea where I came up with the idea but my brother and my niece had a lot to do with it.

Did I mention that it’s harder than it looks? Rose talked to me about leaving the big cheese role and becoming a beginner. It’s harder than it looks, scarier than I imagined so the pay off should be big.

There is a practical, every day, consideration too. The Military is like a herd. When you stay in the herd, it’s safer. You have less of a chance of getting picked off.

Medicine even has a term for it; “Herd Immunity.” Choosing to leave the herd, after 2,3, 5 or 30 years is a tough decision. Choosing to leave voluntarily is crazy, horrifying at times.

But I like school and I like reading a book with a teacher to explain. I like doing things I would not choose on my own.

Like reading The Prince.

…………..Please leave comments for John and Rose in the spaces below each of their posts . Expressing yourself takes more courage at times than the mere skill of writing. Let’s keep the conversation going so that others can heal, teach and learn through shared experiences.     

Heck, we could even go for advice and entertainment.  Bring it on and leave it in the comment box below!

Share your story if you like. Let us know here. We pitch in with proofreading and we’ll get it posted for you.




  1. Fantastic post! Good luck to you. My husband, retired from the military, had 2 college careers – one during his break in service, one after retirement.

  2. Shana Garrett says:

    I served with John Nerges at USAMRIID in the late 90’s. He was a brilliant and kind man with a variety of interests and a heart as big as the world. It is, in part, because of his encouragement and influence that I left the Army to pursue my doctorate in molecular biology. I am so proud to have known him and served with him!

    • Helena Kaufman says:

      Thank you for your comment. We will relay it to John.

      Personally, I admire your own capture of your brilliance and passion for science. It furthers all our knowledge and is a great encouragement for women to add their talent to the pool. Thank you for your service, Shana. And for visiting MilSuccessNet online.

  3. Helena Kaufman says:

    Thank you for your note to Col Nerges. I will make sure he sees it.

    While I am at it, I would like to invite you to join our mailing list here, Sir – you will not be spammed -guaranteed. Or come visit us where we post in brief ‘stuff’ in the news or in good humor.

    HK – Editor of MilSuccessNet

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