After 20 years serving his country as a U.S. Marine, Master Sergeant Craig Wheeler set his sights on a new mission: Becoming a nurse in the U.S. Navy. As part of the Nurse Candidate Program Medical Enlisted Commissioning Program (MECP), Wheeler is stationed at TU’s Oxley College of Health Sciences with the sole job of attending school full-time and graduating with a bachelor of science in nursing.
Wheeler began his career in the Marines as an infantryman and then joined his battalion’s Scout Sniper Platoon following his first deployment in 1998. He served in Afghanistan and upon return, worked in reconnaissance. At that point, Wheeler said, “I looked at my life, and although I’ve been able to do some great things and work with some amazing people, I felt like I needed to move on to something different.”
The path to a new career in nursing proved a natural fit. Wheeler grew up around the profession — his mom was a nurse. “And training in the Marine Corps, we do a lot of medical things,” he said. “I’ve always had a natural apt for it.”
After a rigorous application process, Wheeler was selected from a pool of 300 Marines and sailors as one of 30 total participants and one of only four Marines selected participants in the Nurse Candidate Program for the MECP. Following graduation, he will be commissioned as an officer in the U.S. Navy and will serve in the Navy Nurse Corps.
Stationed in North Carolina at the time, Wheeler didn’t initially consider The University of Tulsa when selecting a nursing school. Looking to move closer to his parents, who live in Tulsa, he inquired about TU’s program and ended up talking to Deb Greubel (BSN ’91), director of the School of Nursing, who also serves as a Navy reservist and captain in the Navy Nurse Corps. “Instantly there was a common bond there, and she quickly sold me on the program,” he said.
Greubel said veterans like Wheeler bring valuable skills and traits to the profession. “He has 20 years of leadership experience: Combine that with a career in nursing, and he will quickly climb the ladder within a hospital setting,” she explained.
Though balancing his time as a full-time student with raising four young children (one who is a newborn) proves challenging at times, Wheeler says the support he receives from faculty makes it possible.
A pinning ceremony recently held at TU’s downtown campus marked a new step in Wheeler’s journey — a promotion from Gunnery Sergeant to Master Sergeant, the second highest rank for an enlisted U.S. Marine. Classmate and U.S. Coast Guard veteran Boatswains Mate 2nd Class Daniel Chavarin read the promotion order; and Wheeler’s son, Logan, placed new insignia on his uniform with a group of family and faculty members in attendance.
While Wheeler is enjoying his time as a student, he looks forward to launching his new career and returning to the military life he’s known and loved for 20 years.
For veterans who have completed (or will soon complete) active duty, TU offers the Yellow Ribbon Program, an addition to the Post-9/11 GI Bill that provides full tuition to qualified veterans. Find more information about the program here.