Nicholas Hall (Appalachia '12) talks about his personal journey from classroom teacher to officer in the North Carolina National Guard.
December 15, 2016
I was face down, sweating, and straining as I “held it” for what seemed like my 800th push-up. A Drill Sergeant kneeled near me and yelled, “Let’s go, teach. Keep your chest off the ground.” My chest was not on the ground, but I knew better than to argue. At that moment, I had a vision of my former classroom in Kentucky, when my students would challenge me to push-ups so I smiled and gritted my teeth.
I am an officer in the North Carolina National Guard. I have not followed the traditional path when it came to military service. I did not enlist when I was fresh out of high school, nor did I commission straight from college. Instead, I’ve worked for a large number of nonprofits, including working two years as a Teach for America corps member, teaching Biology at Rockcastle County High School.
It was there that I began to watch the cadets of JROTC wear their uniforms on Tuesdays and Thursdays and run through drills. The pride and discipline these young students put into their work was an inspiration. These students—who often invited me to join them in the JROTC classroom for various activities—were part of my inspiration for joining the army. In fact one of my former students graduated from basic training a few months after I did! The second part was the unending belief and love from my wife.
I felt the call to serve in the military swell as we purchased a home in North Carolina. I studied many websites, and spoke with veteran friends about the decision. With support from my wife, a fellow TFA alum, and my family, I signed on the dotted line. I have always believed in serving my community—I find the most enjoyment in my life when I know my work is going towards helping people realize their potential.
Teaching has been a great asset in preparing me for the Army. Most recently, I had to laugh when I had someone tell me I had great control of a room when giving an order. I laughed because I was just using my “teaching voice” to convey the importance of our mission. My current long nights and long hours remind me of the long nights as a first-year teacher. The biggest lesson I have carried with me is the one that made my classroom so successful: the importance of remembering that I am not here for myself, but I am here to make others stronger. I’ve learned that the best way to be a good leader is to empower my students or soldiers to realize their potential and provide them the tools to succeed. I am proud to serve and am thankful for the inspiration my wife and my former students gave me to take on this challenge.