GREEN BAY, Wis. (WLUK) -- One week after returning from a nearly year-long deployment to Afghanistan, Andrea Ackerman is set to walk across the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay's graduation stage.
“You know the mission always comes first, so you're trying to balance that with homework,” said Ackerman, a first lieutenant with the 2nd battalion, 127th Infantry.
Ackerman, who is from De Pere, was halfway through her master's program when she found out she was being deployed for her second time with the Wisconsin National Guard.
“If Andrea and others are willing to go halfway across the world into harm's way and serve our country, the least we can do is find ways to serve them,” said Tim Kaufman, Ackerman’s professor and the chair of UW-Green Bay’s graduate studies program.
Luckily for Ackerman, she had solid internet where she was stationed.
“Just to be able to email or text or we did a lot of video conference calls, or video chats, just to keep that communication open to make sure I was hitting all my marks on time,” said Ackerman.
As part of her master's work, Ackerman built a community garden at her base, which is not an easy feat in the Afghan climate.
“The one thing we had success with was the sunflowers,” said Ackerman. “They were quite short and stunted compared to what you see here for a sunflower.”
The garden was a hit with other service members and Ackerman's professor, who has had similar situations with student service members, but never as much direct contact.
“I think sometimes it's not as feasible with other students, but she goes above and beyond in everything she does,’ said Kaufman.
The desire helped Ackerman also land a job while deployed. She'll soon be starting as a UW-Madison horticulturist, working at UWGB's new STEM Innovation Center.
“I'm looking forward to it. I'm excited for the new year.”
Ackerman plans to start community gardens in Brown County for veterans, particularly to help those with PTSD.