Norwich by way of Russia
and the Middle East © June 12, 2007 Norwich University Office of Communications

Over the years, Norwich has been home to brothers and sisters, international students and veterans returning from deployment, but in that time not many students can say they wear all three of those labels. Hailing from Russia, siblings Aleksi Androsov and Angelina Androsova are an exception.

After a 1996 move to New York from Russia, and acquiring green cards through a lottery system, the Androsov family moved to St. Johnsbury where Aleksi and Angelina attended St. Johnsbury Academy.The pair’s decision to come to Norwich was not a very difficult one to make, given both were attracted to the structure of the Corps lifestyle. “This was the only school I wanted to go to,” said Angelina, citing the fact that discipline and structure give students a chance to really focus on education.

However, the chance to focus on education was interrupted for the two in 2004, when both were called up with their National Guard units to serve in Iraq. Following in their father’s footsteps, who was a doctor in Russia, both Angelina and Aleksi served as medics while they were deployed.

Being called up to serve is not new to Norwich students, though for a brother and sister duo to get the call is a rarity at nation’s oldest private military college. In the past four years, 52 Norwich students have been deployed overseas, all of whom have made it home safely.

Although Aleksi was stationed in Iraq and his sister was in Kuwait, the two had similar experiences while overseas. Treating people injured by roadside bombs, helping soldiers suffering with psychological issues and doing the day-to-day work of a regular doctor kept them both busy, but despite the exteme realities of war-zone medical treatment, Angelina appreciated the opportunity.

“I found it very fulfilling,” she said, “because I had the knowledge and the means to help people who were suffering.”

Working as a war-time medic also had its frustrations, though. “War is really horrible,” Aleksi said, “especially when you have to patch up people from three sides—your own guys, the insurgents and the civilians.”

Nonetheless, both Aleksi and Angelina said they learned a lot about themselves from the experience. “Even if you want to do your very best, you can’t do anything about some situations,” Aleksi said. “Learning the nature of your own limitations is one of the most educational experiences of war.”

For Angleina, the experience provided a real-world test for self-discipline and perseverance. “I realized I didn’t flip out in extenuating circumstances, that I always had control,” Angelina said. “You can’t allow life to break you. It proved more than any award could.”

Angelina returned to Norwich in January 2005, and Aleksi returned in September of the following year. Resuming classes proved to be quite challenging for the two though. Aleksi note that returning to junior and senior courses was particularly overwhelming after the year and a half break.

When Angelina returned, she coped by withdrawing from her peers, though she said things have gotten better recently. “It is still difficult to find common interests with people, because I have been exposed to the uglier side of life and I have a different perspective on things.”

The Norwich community has helped the Androsovs with this transition. “It was hard to get back into the mental setting of education—sitting in classes, concentrating, and doing homework,” said Aleksi, “but the teachers have been great with that.”

Returning to Norwich after deployment, however, is not something that all soldiers choose to do. Of those that have been deployed, only thirty-five have returned to classes.

“Even though they are older and have had significant experiences, they want to come back to what they are familiar with,” Norwich Vice President and Commandant of Cadets Gen. Michael Kelley said of the returning veterans. And while most veteran-students share the difficulties Angelina and Aleksi went through upon their return to Norwich, Kelley said there are ways to minimize negative aspects of the transition. “If they have a period of decompression between the time they get back and the time they start Norwich, they tend to do better,” he said.

Regardless, Aleksi and Angelina and all of Norwich’s veterans are in good company when they head back to classes. “We have welcomed back soldiers from every war,” Kelley said. “It’s kind of who we are—carrying out Partridge’s idea of citizen service.”

And Partridge’s ideas are certainly appreciated by Aleksi and Angelina.

“Norwich is different than other schools,” Angelina said. “You get life experience as well as book education because of the Corps culture. If I had gone to a civilian college, this experience wouldn’t have been complete. Norwich made it complete.”