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From Afghanistan to Walsh University

At times, the transition from military service to civilian life can be difficult for veterans who are used to the organized, structured and sometimes dangerous life in the military. But for Emily '12 and Shane Fletcher, the camaraderie and support of their military lives has been mirrored in their experience at Walsh University's DeVille School of Business.

For the Fletchers, their first years out of military service have been a whirlwind of school, marriage, children, new jobs and juggling the kind of home life and opportunities they spent years in service to protect.

Emily Kleinknecht Fletcher always knew she wanted to attend Walsh University. But as a graduate from Central Catholic High School in Canton, Ohio, she decided that she "wanted to see the world first." With the support of her parents and family, Emily joined the Air Force. After basic training in San Antonio, Texas, she was deployed to Kuwait in 2006 for five months. Stationed in Minot, North Dakota, in 2008, Emily, an E-4 Senior Airman, made the generous offer to take the place of a friend who was being deployed to Afghanistan. It was there that she met her future husband, Shane Fletcher.

"Everything happens for a reason," said Shane. "Emily wasn't even supposed to go to Afghanistan. She wasn't even up for deployment. But if she hadn't volunteered to go to Afghanistan, we would've never met. I really believe God was directing her decision."

Growing up in Kansas City, Shane joined the U.S. Army after high school in 2004 and after basic training in Tennessee, he served as an E-5 Sergeant in both Iraq (2005) and Afghanistan in 2008-09. Shane and Emily served together in Afghanistan for several months before Shane's deployment ended and he returned to his base in Tennessee. The couple kept in touch during their separation and made plans for their future life together which included the shared goal to earn their bachelor's degrees.

When Emily's service ended after her deployment in 2009, she moved back home to Canton and immediately enrolled at Walsh as an accounting major.

"I tried to convince Emily to move to Tennessee, but she wouldn't leave Walsh," said Shane. "Now that I'm a part of the University, I can understand why."

A recipient of the Purple Heart for wounds he received in Afghanistan, Shane's service in the Army ended in August 2010. That same month, he moved to Canton to be near Emily and enrolled at Walsh as a marketing major.

Both Emily and Shane attended Walsh through the Yellow Ribbon Program. The Yellow Ribbon Program, designed for active members or veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces, is a partnership between Walsh University and the Veterans' Administration to help fund tuition expenses and make a Walsh education more affordable for those who served our country. More than half of the 40 Walsh veteran students are currently enrolled in the business program.

Two years later, Walsh had become such a positive presence in their lives that Shane and Emily even decided to get married at Walsh's Our Lady of Perpetual Help Chapel.

"These past couple of years have been chaos! And I can say that with a smile on my face," said Shane. "Through it all, Walsh has been amazing. Dr. Carole Mount has been my advisor and I credit her for personally helping me get through the program in such a timely fashion, while juggling everything else in our lives. Everywhere we turned at Walsh, we were met with understanding, support and determination to help us achieve our degrees."

During Emily's last year at Walsh, life was very hectic in the Fletcher home with two young children and another on the way. Through the help of their advisors in the DeVille School of Business, the couple would stagger their class schedules so that someone was always home with the kids. Classes were often scheduled back-to-back so that the two could meet in the Walsh parking lot in-between classes and exchange the kids.

"The funny thing is, we really did have a plan," said Emily. "Shane and I worked as a team juggling our children, new home and school work. With the unbelievable amount of support we received from everyone in the DeVille School of Business, somehow we were able to manage it all."

In December 2012, Emily graduated from Walsh, one week before their daughter Madeline was born, with a degree in accounting and a new job waiting for her in the State Auditor's Office.

The couple is looking forward to "a little less chaos" after Shane's graduation this May with a degree in marketing. He hopes to continue his service to the United States by working for the U.S. government or possibly the National Security Agency.

"I think we can both agree that we got to know ourselves better during our years of service and by the time we left, we knew what we wanted to do with our lives," said Emily. "But it was with the personal attention and the help of so many people here at Walsh that we were able to finally turn our dreams into a reality. Walsh, and the amazing people we have met here, will always hold a special place in our hearts."