As a high school student more than a decade ago, 1st Lt. Jesse Hoffman wasn’t sure he wanted to go to college. Then he took eight years to earn a bachelor’s degree.
Hoffman needed the extra time to graduate because when he wasn’t taking history classes, spending time with his fraternity brothers or playing football at Franklin College, he was serving with the Indiana National Guard. That service has continued for more than 10 years and includes deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.
On Friday, Hoffman shared his experiences at Franklin College with about 100 people, about half of whom were veterans. He told the group about the responsibilities and challenges he faced as a college student and a soldier, which included a drinking problem, and how he went on to become a first-generation college graduate.
Hoffman started thinking about a military career when he was 15 after a friend started talking about the National Guard. Hoffman had planned to join the Marine Corps as soon as he graduated high school, but his parents talked him out of it; and instead he enrolled in Manchester College in North Manchester in 2001.
But on Sept. 11, after the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington D.C., Hoffman feared he’d made the wrong choice. He was filled with rage after seeing the second plane hit the World Trade Center and again was committed to joining the Marines.
Hoffman probably would have made it to Marine boot camp if his recruiter hadn’t inadvertently called his parents’ house instead of his dorm. His parents told the recruiter he needed to at least finish his semester at Manchester.
But Hoffman learned he could do both by joining the National Guard.
After completing basic training, he was sent to Kuwait in 2002 and then Iraq the following year, where he and his unit spent about six months running missions and providing security. During their deployment, one member of Hoffman’s unit was killed in a vehicle rollover.
Hoffman returned to Indiana in November 2003 and decided to attend Franklin College after learning about the football program. He joined the football team as a defensive lineman, enrolled as a history major and joined Lambda Chi Alpha.
While Hoffman and his fraternity brothers had a lot of fun together, the fraternity also helped Hoffman learn about different styles of leadership. The military wanted its members to think the same way, but the fraternity encouraged leaders to grow as individuals.
“They helped me grow as a leader and as a man,” Hoffman said.
Periodically, Hoffman needed to take breaks from Franklin because of military training, such as air assault school. His professors and college administrators always were accommodating, but the full load of school, work, football and his military commitment were becoming overwhelming.
He began to drink more.
“The bottle, like so many soldiers, is where I took out that aggression, that anger,” he said.
In 2006, Hoffman left Franklin and planned to let the last year of his commitment with the National Guard run out. He spent most of the year working and drinking.
But even after Hoffman left, Franklin College director of counseling John Shafer and football chaplain Brad Long stayed in touch, encouraging him to re-enroll. Hoffman also was contacted by a military officer who told him he should consider applying for officer candidate school.
Hoffman re-enrolled at Franklin during the 2007-2008 year, and that winter he re-enlisted with the National Guard and submitted his application to become an officer. As he got closer to earning his degree, he completed an internship at the museum at Camp Atterbury and completed a senior project on post-traumatic stress disorder.
In March 2009, Hoffman was commissioned as an officer in the National Guard, and three months later he received his bachelor’s degree in history from Franklin.
After graduating, Hoffman completed additional military training and was deployed to Afghanistan, where he oversaw more than 170 combat missions. He also was able to make it back to the U.S. to see his wife, Melody, give birth to their first son.
“Leaders are only truly as strong as the spouses they have by their side,” he said.
Hoffman was deployed to Germany earlier this year and is continuing his work with the National Guard. He’s thankful for the support the college provided over the past decade, which helped him become a stronger soldier.
“It has been a long 11 years. But Franklin College has been, hands down, the glue that held it all together,” he said.