On her way to becoming a pharmacist and graduating from The University of Texas at Austin, Prudence Hofmann experienced a slight interruptiona 545-day tour of duty in Iraq.
She had been a student in the College of Pharmacy for only one year when her reserve unit was called up. In Iraq, she was a "human intelligence collector" for army intelligenceleading a team in detainee screenings, interrogations and source operations.
"I was ... well ... upset and overwhelmed when I found out I had to report to duty," Hofmann said. "But soon I realized that it was part of the commitment I made to the military and that it would be a once in a lifetime experience."
Her life became one of Black Hawk helicopters, Humvees, military gear, weapons and maneuvers at a small forward operating base in the middle of the desert between Iskandariah and Amariyah. Because Hofmann's job required her to build a network of sources and obtain information, she would spend several days a week "outside the wire."
"It was difficult to distinguish what information was accurate, whom we could trust and who were the 'bad guys,'" she said. "We were located in a tough area where most of the people were Sunni and very resistant in 2005 to U.S. presence."
Her one day off a week was spent playing cards, watching movies, playing volleyball and getting to know the locals, many of whom would bring the soldiers buckets of dates.
"Everyone always asks how hot is Iraq," Hofmann said. "Let's just say that summer in Iraq is hot (think 127 degrees), summer in Iraq in full 'battle rattle' is hotter (think 140 degrees) and summer in Iraq inside a metal airplane with several other individuals dressed in full 'battle rattle' is indescribable.
"I think that these experiences have helped shape me into a well-rounded and mature person who can handle almost any situation," she said. "I am thankful for the training I received in the military and think it has been absolutely invaluable in my pursuit to becoming a pharmacist."
Iraq and time spent in Kuwait, Guatemala, Peru, Arizona and California is quite different from Bagely, Minnesotathe town of 1,250 where Hofmann grew up. Her grandmother and mother were nurses, both working at the same community hospital in Bagely.
"As a child, I would listen to my mother's stories after a day's work at the hospital," said Hofmann. "She was usually tired, but her heart was filled with happinessnot because she had helped save someone, but because she had been there to support someone through difficult times.
"Working in the medical field is more than treating patients. It is about understanding the needs of individuals and their families. My mother would tell me that the patient is not the only one who suffers, but that the family suffers and endures as well."
Hofmann likes pharmacy because it is a person-oriented field.
"One is able to work directly with people by providing advice and services that help achieve good health," she said. "At the end of the day pharmacists are able to go home knowing that they helped someone."
Having limited financial support to attend college, Hofmann joined the military in her last year of high school to take advantage of the army college fund. While she enjoyed her time in military intelligence, she quickly discovered it wasn't something she wanted to do for the rest of her life.
Hofmann will do a pharmacy practice residency at the Audie L. Murphy Veterans Administration Hospital in San Antonio next year.
"It will be an excellent opportunity to get direct patient care experience in both the inpatient and outpatient setting in a population that I hold dear to my heart," she said.