Rachelle Hales has always called South Carolina home, even when she was traveling the country as a military spouse, living in six different places over the course of 20 years.
Now a junior biological sciences major, she’s one of the 1,120 veterans and military-connected students enrolled at Clemson, with spouses or dependents representing about two-thirds of that group. Hales’ path back to South Carolina has led to her current role as president of the Student Veterans Association. Here, she has found a supportive community, faculty connections and hands-on learning opportunities. Clemson’s military outreach and engagement organizations are uniquely suited for her passion of supporting those tied to the armed services.
Hales was in her early 20s when she met her future husband, Noah, a combat engineer for the U.S. Army who was stationed in California at the time.
She has fond memories of being a young military spouse; she says she and her husband made a good team — a necessity for his intense rotation cycle. Noah was deployed four times during his military career for nine months to a year at a time. In 2004, during his first deployment to Iraq, an event unfolded that changed their lives forever.
“Noah was in an incident where his vehicle went over an improvised explosive device (IED), which caused a massive explosion,” Hales says. “He suffered many long-term injury effects from that, including traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder.”
Despite his injuries, Noah would go on to serve three deployments in Southeast Asia with special operations units, overseeing civil humanitarian projects, before passing away in 2020.
“It’s a little bit hard to talk about, even today,” she says. But she’s come a long way to be able to share her story.
These days, Hales has her sights set on medical school; she’s interested in clinical work — most likely surgery. Previously, she worked in a physical therapy office with patients who, like Noah, suffered traumatic brain injuries. She has also worked in acute outpatient care.
With new academic and professional goals established, Hales enrolled at Clemson in January 2021. But she knew her success also meant finding a supportive community. She sought out the Military and Veteran Engagement Resource Center and found what she was looking for.
“I’m not a veteran and wondered if I belonged,” she recalls. “Everyone was so nice and welcoming and helpful. We had relatable experiences, and it felt like I was supposed to be here.”
Hales joined the SVA and ultimately took the reins of the student organization in 2021, helping advocate for student veterans and military-connected students through a variety of programs and initiatives. As president, she assists student veterans and others in the University’s military community with the transition to college.
“I’m thankful to have the opportunity to walk in the footsteps of student leaders before me, like Matt Morris, Ross Snead and Trevor Hobbs, who have continuously encouraged me in my role as president of SVA,” Hales says.
“I’m thankful to be surrounded by such a caring community.”