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Cowboy Veteran Continues to Serve Even After the Military

By Grant Guggisberg

Most people wouldn’t associate the difficult job of a rancher and the manual labor that accompanies it with retirement, but Sgt. 1st Class Michael Connell has been waiting years for this opportunity.

Throughout his long U.S. military career, which includes time served in the Air Force and the Army, Connell has been balancing real life with his love of rodeo and animals.

Born into a military family and near the completion of a lengthy career in the Armed Forces, Connell has the opportunity to begin using his recently-acquired bachelor’s degree in animal sciences and industry from Kansas State University Global Campus. The plans aren’t set in stone, but the Reno, Nevada, native is hoping to get out of town and start doing what he loves.

“I absolutely love working with the livestock,” Connell said. “It’s why I’ve been shoeing horses for so long. I get a lot of peace handling them, working with cattle, working with goats and sheep. It’s a lot of satisfaction and a lot of peace that I get working with them.”

Connell graduated from K-State in 2015 and has been working with animals for years, but only recently turned his hobbies into a full-fledged career. He developed Nevada’s technical protocol for large animal rescue, effectively creating a plan for first responders charged with assisting large animals in emergency situations.

A man of many interests, the balancing act between cowboy culture and the military is nothing new for Connell. In addition to his military service, he is a trained farrier (horse-shoer), a skilled bagpiper, and he makes and sells his own rodeo equipment.

“I’ve got way too many hobbies,” he said, laughing. “I’m just ecstatic with the opportunities K-State has afforded me.”

At the time of his graduation in 2015, Connell was unsure of what retirement from the military would mean for him, though he has plenty of options.

“I’ve got a number of different directions I can go,” he said. “Initially, I was thinking I would start my own cattle operation, but because I work in emergency management now, it’s opening up other opportunities. I work some as a contractor for the state in my spare time, driving all over Nevada, teaching technical rescuing with overturned trailers and things like that. It’s opening up doors and I’m now kind of in a quandary of not knowing what to do next.

“There are a lot of opportunities out there.”

Connell took an interest in rodeo during his time with the Air Force while stationed in Arkansas. He worked part time at a ranch and was immediately “bit by the agricultural bug.” That’s when he went to farrier school and began shoeing horses in his spare time.

His love of cowboys and the rodeo continued, but he quickly learned it was no way to support a family. After he got married, he rejoined the service, opting to start with the Nevada Army National Guard and then enlisting in a full-time position with the Army. Following a tour in Iraq, Connell began contemplating his future. He enrolled at American Military University studying military history, but wasn’t sold on the program.

“My older brother got cancer and it kind of did something to me,” Connell said. “It shocked me. I said I need to do what I really love doing, and I decided to switch degree programs.”

He soon found K-State’s online animal sciences program and enrolled, utilizing the flexibility and convenience of studying from a distance while continuing to live and work in Reno.

Because of the success of his technical rescue protocol, Connell has traveled across the nation teaching others. He also wrote a chapter in a textbook about large animal rescue, and he even helped teach a class on the subject in Toronto.

At the end of the day, though, Connell is a cowboy and prefers the serenity and calm of life on the ranch.

For more information on the agricultural programs offered through K-State Global Campus, visit global.k-state.edu/ag.

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