Iraq War veteran Skyler Nelson has been named the 2021 El Paso County Veteran of the Year in recognition of her work advocating for veterans.
“I’m honored to be standing up here and to even be considered among those veterans,” Nelson said as she accepted the award Thursday during a ceremony at Bear Creek Regional Park, praising fellow finalists Al Batey, Roger Fortin and Andrew Gilbert. “They’re doing amazing things.”
Nelson joined the Army when she was 17 and served in Iraq as a chaplain assistant. While in Iraq, Nelson contracted tuberculosis and spent 10 months battling the disease, which left her with lung and nerve damage. She was medically discharged in 2012 after five and a half years in the Army, she said.
On Thursday Nelson credited winning the honor to her mentor, Command Sgt. Maj. Scott Allen Bailey, who died while on active duty in November 2017, three months shy of his planned retirement.
“When I joined the Army, I was just a kid who didn’t know anything about life or the military, but Scott took me under his wing and taught me more than I ever could have imagined,” Nelson said. "He helped me throughout my career and even after it ended.”
Nelson recalled how Bailey ensured her husband, who was also serving active duty then, could spend as much time as possible with her as she underwent treatment for tuberculosis. When he noticed Nelson was struggling with her transition back into civilian life — “I was depressed and angry, and I felt like my life had no purpose,” Nelson told the crowd — Bailey called her regularly and enlisted the help of a friend to take Nelson out for coffee and physically check in on her, she said.
“It wasn’t just me though, that he treated this way,” Nelson said. "He went above and beyond to make sure that his soldiers were taken care of.”
Since serving in the Army, Nelson has volunteered countless hours advocating for fellow veterans, volunteering with several veteran services organizations and working with local leaders to provide services to homeless veterans, El Paso County Commissioner Longinos Gonzalez said Thursday as he introduced her as one of four award finalists.
Nelson works as the community outreach coordinator for K9’s for Veterans Abroad, helping raise thousands of dollars to provide free service dogs to veterans. She also works with Homes for All Veterans, The Green Beret Foundation and Mental Health Colorado, among other local nonprofits; advocates for homeless veterans and Gold Star families; and is a member of the Spacious Skies Charter School board, working to start a private school that assists special needs children, Gonzalez said.
Nelson is also a graduate student at Pepperdine University, where she is studying to become a clinical psychologist, and is working on a veteran housing project near Fort Carson in honor of Bailey, she said.