EAGLE – Nick Babcock couldn’t help himself.
As if the 36-year-old husband, father of three children, Michigan State University master’s student, cancer patient and sheep farmer had space for much else in his life, he just couldn’t say no when asked to help serve fellow veterans.
Babcock, president of the Michigan chapter of Farmer Veteran Coalition of America (FVCOA), filled a sudden leadership void atop the organization five months before the 2016 FVC National Stakeholders Conference in East Lansing. The third-annual meeting is being hosted Nov. 30-Dec. 2 at Kellogg Hotel and Conference Center in East Lansing.
“I’m a ‘helps’ guy,” said Babcock, who was named FVC-Michigan president after both his predecessor and board chair resigned in the midst of preparing for the largest gathering of the military and agricultural communities in the nation. “It’s another opportunity to help and serve my brothers and sisters in arms. It’s hard to explain unless you’ve experienced it.
“You already have things in common without even saying hello,” he said of his military brethren. “That’s what makes it such a special bond.”
He shares similar feeling for his fellow farmers.
Babcock, who was retired medically from the U.S. Army in 2013 due to medical issues, is proud to help lead the effort to unite farmer veterans with the agricultural, governmental and nonprofit groups that support them.
“I think it is filling a void,” he said of the conference’s main goal. “There are a lot of veterans out there trying to figure it out as they go. I think the military and agricultural life are so service driven. I think those two things are therapeutic.”
The third-annual conference, whose theme is “United We Farm,” features three days of educational tracks, farm visits, guest panels, distinguished speakers, networking and camaraderie on Michigan State University’s campus.
Michigan Farm Bureau (MFB) is offering scholarships for up to 40 Michigan veterans to attend the conference.
“Michigan Farm Bureau is proud to partner with the Michigan chapter of the Farmer Veteran Coalition and assist those who have served our country,” MFB President Carl Bednarski said. “In 2015, our members adopted policy supporting the Farm Veteran Coalition’s Michigan chapter. Its mission is ‘mobilizing veterans to feed America,’ and we want to help achieve that goal.”
Participants also are eligible for up to 20 RUP credits.
Babcock, a Clinton County Farm Bureau member since 2011, has dedicated much of his life to helping others.
He grew up in Haslett and developed an early affinity for animals as a teen zookeeper at Potter Park Zoo in Lansing. Currently, he has a small flock of 25 sheep (21 for wool, four for meat production) and 18 roosters and hens, which is down from 30, following a recent bout with a skunk, who poached several chickens and all 15 of his turkeys.
“I was in a battle with a skunk for a month. I suffered an attrition rate—he took all of my turkeys this year. But I eventually won,” he said with a smile.
At age 17, Babcock enlisted in the Army, following in his father’s footsteps. He reached the rank of Sgt. 1st Class and deployed to both the U.S. base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in 2003-04, and with the U.S. National Guard in 2005 to led a search-and-rescue team following Hurricane Katrina. Late in 2004, he suffered some health problems.
“The Army medically retired me in 2013 because I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer (December 2004) and type 1 diabetes (January 2005) within two weeks of each other,” he said. “I’m still battling both. I wear an insulin pump—a real-time monitoring system—on my left side and follow up with my doctor every six months.
“I continue to receive care through the Veterans Administration and University of Michigan/Sparrow Hospital as well. I take a high dose of medication to (manage thyroid cancer). I’m doing OK,” he added. “They say it’s one of the most curable cancers, but it’s a forever thing. It’ll involve medication and treatment for the rest of my life.”
Upon re-entering civilian life, Babcock decided to plunge into agriculture.
He earned a bachelor’s degree from MSU in animal science with a focus on beef cattle and sheep management. He spent two years as an intern in the MSU Vets to Ag program, which provides training for veterans with barriers to employment and has partnered with FVC-Michigan to host the national conference this year.
He also served as chapter president of MSU’s Student Veterans of America from 2014-16 and has been instrumental in the MSU Veterans Association while pursuing his master’s degree in forensic entomology.
Ultimately, he’d like to get further involved in livestock production.
His immediate focus is making sure Michigan, one of the first four states in the U.S. to form an FVC state chapter last year, is a proper host for the 2016 FVC National Stakeholders Conference at the end of the month.
“It was always a passion,” Babcock said of serving others, “because the (military) has been so much a part of my life. My dad retired from the Army. I’m a helper, so it was just a natural thing for me to give back to that brotherhood.”
He has earned the admiration of a fellow farmer veteran for those efforts.
“Nick Babcock has done an outstanding job of stepping up and handling the position of chapter president,” MFB West Regional Representative, FVC-Michigan Board Member and former Marine Jason Scramlin said. “His leadership has kept our group together and helped sharpen our focus onto more realistic and relevant goals.
“As a state chapter, approaching our one-year anniversary, we have a lot to be proud of, and hosting the national conference is just another feather in our cap.”
Interested veterans can visit farmvetco.org/fvsc/ for more information about the agenda, registration and accommodations. To apply for scholarships and register for the conference, please contact the FVC-Michigan chapter at FVCMichigan@gmail.com.