Spc. Miguel Nieves, 55, graduated from Basic Combat Training with the 3rd Battalion, 34th Infantry Regiment, April 5. (Photo by Nathan Clinebelle)

Soldier puts old back in new school. Literally.

By Emily Hileman, Fort Jackson Public Affairs

As the stadium rumbled with the stomps and roars of ecstatic Family members waiting to see their Soldiers emerge from the plumes of yellow and green smoke on Hilton Field, an unlikely figure was amongst their ranks, 55-year-old Spc. Miguel Nieves.

Nieves first enlisted in the Army in 1985 as a 92W – Water Treatment Specialist. He spent ten years on active duty before spending another 13 years with the California National Guard and the Army Reserves, leaving 15 years between his last time in uniform to now.

“It’s a lot of different personalities than it was back then, but it was a good experience for me,” Nieves said.

After finding their Families at Family Day, many Soldiers ran up to introduce him to their Families and to get photos with their “grandpa” as some Soldiers affectionately referred to him. “I have a daughter and she’s 38-years-old,” Nieves said. “I liked to tell the trainees that she’s older than most of them in basic training right now.”

Although he’s not a grandfather, Nieves relished in being called grandpa and listening to the trials and stories of the younger trainees. “You know kids … They leave home for the first time and they miss their moms, their dads, their girlfriends,” he said. “I was there once. So, any words of encouragement or to teach them how to wash their clothes, how to keep their lockers clean … I was all for it.”

Sgt. 1st Class Jack Young, drill sergeant for Company B, 3rd Battalion, 34th Infantry Regiment, said Nieves’ age not only benefited his platoon, but the entire company. “He was able to help the younger trainees by giving them a different perspective and was able to show them what looks right,” he said.

Nieves wife, Eva Martinez, was supportive of his decision and instrumental in him reenlisting. “My wife thought I was crazy at first, because this a young-person’s thing,” he said. “She was the one that helped me with all my paperwork. When I was working, she took it to the recruiters and made sure I was squared away.”

When asked what drove him to enlist for a second time when most people are preparing for retirement, Nieves said, “I just wanted to finish my time and get my retirement.”

Nieves plans to retire from both the Army and United Airlines, where he’s been a flight attendant for 22 years, and move to Puerto Rico to take care of his parents.

Although graduating Basic Combat Training at 55 is quite the accomplishment to be proud of, Nieves exuded gratitude above all. “A lot of people helped me,” he said. “Bravo Company took me in and treated me with respect. The drill sergeants and the cadre, they really looked after me.”