Adrian Willett

Most college students know the struggle of balancing school and work, but perhaps none as well as Tech. Sgt. Adrian Willett.

Willett is an airman in the 115th Fighter Wing of Wisconsin Air National Guard and a senior at UW Oshkosh’s College of Nursing (CON).

With the help of his wife, Heather, and several CON professors he was able to complete his last semester while deployed thousands of miles away in Okinawa, Japan.

“Adrian had to be extremely organized, efficient and conscientious to stay engaged and proceed through the curriculum,” said Paula McNiel, one of Willett’s professors. “Adrian also shared his experiences with students in class that helped shape different cultural experiences related to public health and health care.”

Last spring, Willett’s unit began seeking volunteers for deployment. Because of his high rank and 13 years of experience, he was asked to travel to Kadena Air Force Base where he served as crew chief for the 115th’s maintenance squadron.

Willett was stationed in Japan for training.

“Our F16 guys rarely get to train with the air-to-air stuff,” Willett said, “especially with an unrestricted ceiling. Over there they can fly as high as 56,000 feet. Here in Wisconsin they can only go up to about 25,000 to 35,000 feet. The ability to train in that kind of environment is one of the reasons why they got deployed.”

Willett worked 9- to 10-hour days, five days a week and spent the remainder of his time completing his senior semester online.

He said his wife, Heather, who is also a nursing student, was an integral part of his successful semester. Willett said during their daily phone calls, Heather did her best to keep him on track with the program. She reminded him of upcoming readings and assignments and even recorded lectures and powerpoints.

“You’d be surprised how hard it is to teach someone over the phone,” Heather said.

Because of the support he received, Willett decided to hand out a “Hometown Hero” award to his wife and the UWO College of Nursing.

The Air National Guard describes the award as an opportunity to recognize “airmen, their families and others who do not wear the uniform but sacrifice nonetheless.”

“I credit all my success to my professors and my wife,” Willett said. “Without these people, I would have had to drop for the semester.”

McNiel said the CON is proud of Willett’s achievement as well as Heather’s willingness to support him so diligently.

“Adrian has really stepped up in his role as a student to serve his country and complete his requirements for the College of Nursing,” McNiel said. “He truly emulates the College of Nursing mission of being a caring, scholarly leader.”

Willett and his wife said they plan to start job hunting in fall after their final semesters. He said they plan to stay in Wisconsin to be close to their families.