Decorated veteran to receive nursing degree
Monica Ridenour serves during a 2011 deployment to Afghanistan. In May, Ridenour will make a lifelong dream come true when she crosses the stage and receives her nursing degree from Carson-Newman University.
(April 25, 2019) JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. — After serving more than a decade in the United States Army, including three deployments and two Bronze Star Medals, Monica Ridenour will soon cross the stage at Carson-Newman University’s May 3 graduation into a new branch of service — nursing.
The 48-year-old wife and mother of three boys is graduating with her Bachelor of Science in Nursing and has a job lined up in Blount Memorial Hospital’s Surgery Intensive Care Unit.
It’s a dream she’s held since she was in her 20s and started first at a community college and then at a state university, where she joined ROTC.
“Along the way, I made some poor decisions and got off track,” she said. “Once I got out of the military and got my life more stable, I was determined to finish what I had started a long time ago.”
She chose Carson-Newman for its reputation in nursing, proximity and “smaller, more personable” atmosphere.
“It’s not easy, especially coming back when I’m a little bit older,” she said. “But it’s been a good experience. I’ve met a lot of great people.”
Ridenour first deployed to Iraq as a first lieutenant in the Tennessee Army National Guard in 2004, returning in 2005 with her first Bronze Star Medal.
“I just felt like I just did my job. It wasn’t valor or anything like that. I was a spitfire,” she conceded with a laugh. “But I just had good people around me. I had good soldiers. They worked hard and did their job. It wasn’t just me; it was all of them around me, doing what needed to be done.”
In her first deployment, she assisted her commander in a transportation unit that kept outlying units supplied. On her second deployment in 2009, however, she was promoted to captain, commanding her own unit that ran security for convoys. It was during that time that she earned her second Bronze Star Medal.
“Receiving them, I was kind of in shock,” she recalled. “I didn’t work for getting awards; I just worked for taking care of my soldiers, to make sure they had what they needed.”
Overcome by tears, she admitted she very rarely talks about it.
“(The unit) was what was important,” she continued. “Not the awards. Not the evaluations or how I was doing my job. They were important. They were away from their family and had all kinds of stuff happening in their lives.”
The same was true for her. At her first deployment, her youngest son was just 4 months old. Her oldest was 5. She credits her husband, David, family and church with their care over the course of her three deployments, the last of which ended in 2011.
After a brief stint as an associate professor with the University of Tennessee’s ROTC program, Ridenour worked for the Department of Interior in Knoxville. But she still had a heart for nursing.
“Eventually, I would like to do community public health, missions, going out to serve the underserved, the homeless,” she said. “Whatever God has in store for me. I leave it up to him.”
And so, more than two decades after she first heard the call, she is now only days away from fulfilling her dream and becoming a registered nurse.
“I just want people to know that it’s never too late to do what God’s called them to do,” Ridenour said. “He is a redeemer. I came back very angry when I got out of the military. I had a lot to deal with. He set me free from all of that. He gave me the ability to finish what I need to do. I let him guide my path now.”
Founded in 1851, Carson-Newman is a Christian liberal arts university located in Jefferson City, Tennessee, among the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains. The University has over 2,500 students and offers 50 undergraduate majors, as well as associate, bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees.
David and Monica Ridenour share a moment with their sons, from left, Landen, Elijah and Hunter.