CAMP MURRAY, Wash. – In life, the direct path to achieving dreams is never the easiest. For Spc. Nicole Ridley, the journey to joining the National Guard was worth the 11-year wait.
“There was a horrible flood in my hometown in 2007,” said Ridley. “Our family was trapped at home. Our house was fine and we had enough food and water, but the National Guard came in driving their high water trucks to come check on us. I remember being in high school and thinking how cool it was that they showed up for us.”
From that moment, she knew joining the military was one of her life goals. After graduating high school, Ridley started college, got married, had a child, and life got busy. The dream of joining the National Guard seemed out of reach.
“I had always wanted to be in the military, but timing was everything. I married my high school sweetheart and had my son when I was in college,” said Ridley. “Shortly after my son was born, his dad and I split up and I found myself as a single mom for several years. I was working in the restaurant industry, waitressing, bartending and working barista jobs, anything to make ends meet and provide a life for my son and myself.”
In 2015, Ridley went back to college to pursue her civil engineering degree and, in the summer of 2016, received an internship with the Washington Department of Transportation, which led to a full-time permanent position at the Chehalis WSDOT office.
“After I met my now-husband, he supported me joining the service and is a great support system to help me chase my dreams,” said Ridley.
So in 2018, Ridley connected with a recruiter and joined the Washington Army National Guard as an aviation operations specialist with 96th Aviation Troop Command on Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
“Aviation is something that I’ve always been fascinated with, and becoming a pilot one day would be amazing,” said Ridley. “I get to fly quite a bit when there are available seats on the aircraft, so I’m very much enjoying my time in the military.”
Ridley is on leave from the WSDOT to support the state’s COVID-19 response working at food banks in western Washington.
“This is fun, working with the community and the public,” she said. “It is very rewarding and great to see how we are making a difference for so many.”
She is also preparing for deployment overseas with her aviation unit later this year. Leaving seems less stressful knowing she has a great support system at home.
“I believe to be a successful Soldier in the National Guard, you need a good support system that has your back for when you go to training or deployments and especially being that I have a now 9-year-old son,” Ridley said. “I am very fortunate that I have that.”