Attired in a t-shirt, cargo shorts and flip flops, 23-year-old Nelson Algarin looks like a typical college student. His confident smile and clean-cut good looks belie his troubled past as a former Marine struggling with personal demons. As he tells his story, he strokes the dog tags around his neck, those of a fallen comrade.
Algarin’s return from Afghanistan began promisingly with a heartwarming welcome home and the excitement of returning to civilian life. Unfortunately, things began to unravel quickly. He soon found himself caught between living in the present and not being able to let go of the memories of the past. These memories included being shot in the back and losing two of his closest friends to war. In addition, he found he had difficulty relating to family and friends who seemed to view him differently.
The demands of being back in civilian life also took their toll on Algarin. Looking for a job, a car and the thought of going back to school overwhelmed him. He suffered from survivor’s guilt and his feelings of isolation and anger grew. As he shut out family and friends he turned to alcohol. “My four years in the military did not help release my anger, it only made it worse. I was a bomb waiting for the right moment to explode.“ During a personal crisis he reached a breaking point where he said to himself, “Not like this.“ He reached out to his family for help and checked into The Department of Veterans Affairs for counseling. One year later Nelson was sober and ready to go back to school – but where? Given its proximity and affordability, Algarin chose Tunxis.
At New Britain High School, he hadn’t always put forth his best effort and, as a result, earned C’s. But with his newly found motivation, Algarin knew he had the ability to do better academically. Even with his new attitude, adjusting to life on the Tunxis campus was not easy. “The first semester was difficult,” he says “I was afraid because I wasn’t social and I didn’t have much confidence.” He found it hard to relate to his fellow freshmen, who seemed young in comparison and prone to taking things for granted. They had not experienced what Algarin had. “I saw more in four years than most people see in a lifetime.”
It was in his second semester that he discovered the Veterans’ OASIS on campus where he found a brotherhood of fellow student veterans. Inside the walls of OASIS, he could talk more freely and share stories of active combat that he couldn’t talk about with others. He credits the support he found at the OASIS with helping his transition.
It was at this point that he finally hit his stride, excelling academically and discovering a knack for writing. Today, he is known as one of the most prominent leaders on campus and he is currently serving as the president of the Tunxis Veterans’ Club.
And the good news doesn’t stop there. At the recently held Student Achievement Recognition Ceremony, he collected two scholarships from the Tunxis Foundation to help lighten his financial load, and he was the recipient of a Leadership and Service award for his involvement with the OASIS. His plans call for him to graduate from Tunxis next year with an associates degree in general studies, get his bachelor’s degree and then attend medical school.
Said Algarin, “Four to five years ago I was angry but it didn’t have to be that way. You can always make
new choices.” With plenty of new choices and opportunities ahead, his future couldn’t be brighter.