LANDSTUHL, Germany - In 2010, Stephanie Hergesheimer enlisted in the Army as a combat medic; 10 years later, she’s serving as an Army nurse.
Statistically, she shouldn’t be.
At a young age, the Vernon, Connecticut native entered foster care due to her mother terminating parental rights and an imprisoned father. Over the span of 15 years, Hergesheimer found herself bouncing from foster family to foster family, living in a total of 33 foster homes.
Figures looked unpromising for Hergesheimer, with only 25 percent of foster children graduating high school and less than three percent earning a college degree at any point in their life, according to the United States Department of Health and Human Services, Administration on Children, Youth, and Families, Children’s Bureau.
Hergesheimer decided to prove those statistics wrong, despite her difficult childhood.
“School was my refuge,” she said. “With everything that was going on, that was crazy in my life, school was my safe zone. That's where I could just focus on being a student and what I needed to get done. I could read and that would put me in a whole different world. I never had to worry about what was going on around me.”
A haven for her, Hergesheimer not only graduated high school but was also awarded a full college scholarship. Although, at the time she was looking for something else.
“I didn't know what I wanted to do with (an education),” said Hergesheimer. “I was looking for purpose and direction to make a difference in the world. I didn't feel like I was getting that just sitting in a college classroom. So I gave up my scholarship and enlisted.”
Hergesheimer soon found herself at a U.S. Army recruiting station, volunteering to enlist. Given three military occupational specialty choices, she was most interested in a position within healthcare due to her previous experience as a lifeguard and babysitter.
“I was always interested in like saving people's lives and it's just been what I've always wanted to do - help people,” she said.
Following a tour in South Korea where she worked as an emergency room medic, Hergersheimer found herself at Fort Campbell, Kentucky where she deployed with the 101st Combat Aviation Brigade to Afghanistan. After returning, Hergesheimer faced another hurdle after finding out she was pregnant and would soon be a single parent. Yet again, the situation only motivated her to be better.
“Right after she was born I realized I needed to do something more,” said Hergesheimer. “I still wanted to do my job and I still wanted to be in the Army and wanted to take care of people.”
Following orders to move to Georgia, the single mother finished her bachelor’s degree, majoring in psychology. Wielding her education to her advantage, she applied for commissioning as part of the Army Medical Department’s Enlisted Commissioning Program, a program designed for enlisted Soldiers to attend and graduate with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing.
“I was selected in 2016 for AECP and completed my nursing degree,” said Hergesheimer. “I was a single mom with a toddler and we did lots of sports and everything, all while going to school and eventually graduating with honors.”
Hergesheimer, 30, is now married and a second lieutenant working at the Medical & Surgical Inpatient Ward at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, the largest American hospital outside of the U.S., and the only American level III trauma center overseas.
Looking back, Hergesheimer believes the cynics, and her obligation to her daughter, continue driving her to succeed.
“Growing up, I was told I wouldn't make it and I wouldn't succeed just from my past,” said Hergesheimer. “That definitely motivated me to prove them wrong. Then having a little daughter, having those little eyes look up at me and tell me ‘you're my hero’ pushes me to do more and be better.
George Washington once said, “Example whether it be good or bad has a powerful influence.” For Hergesheimer, the choice was simple: Live up to the Army Values and Warrior Ethos and set a good example for others.
“I had to become more to show (my daughter) no matter what you're going through in life, no matter what they're throwing at you, you can do it; you're not weaker than anybody else, you're just as strong,” said Hergesheimer. “To other little girls that are growing up in situations similar to mine or in any situation: you don't have to be looked down upon and you don't have to feel as though you're the weaker individual. Just because you're a female doesn't mean you're weaker.
“(Women) go through a lot, the world looks at us in a certain light,” said Hergesheimer. “Just because the world wants to put you in a square doesn't mean you have to be a square. You can be a diamond. You can do whatever you want, and you don't have to fit into a stereotype.”