Student veterans adjust to new life

by Kathryn Nelson

Getting shot feels like being hit with a baseball bat, said journalism first-year student Chris Holbrook.

A ground soldier in Iraq in 2003, Holbrook was driving through the Sunni Triangle, an especially volatile area, when enemy insurgents attacked. He and seven of the 10 soldiers he was riding with were shot.

The bullet entered in his right hip, traveled through his intestine and into his stomach.

During the Iraqi ambush, Holbrook said he and his fellow soldiers killed several insurgents.

“It’s not something that you’re proud of having done,” he said.

Two years later he returned to the Middle East for a tour in Afghanistan. During a patrol, shrapnel hit him in the face, knocking out his front tooth.

Although Holbrook said he never experienced mental health issues such as posttraumatic stress disorder or depression, life is quite different in Minnesota than Afghanistan and Iraq.

“Everything hinges on life and death,” he said. “It’s a very different reality.”

He experienced hit-and-run tactics in Iraq, which caused him to be hyper-vigilant after returning to the United States.

“It’s a complete shock to your system,” he said.

Returning to the community after serving in a conflict-ridden area like Iraq can be hard on veterans.

Last January, 25-year-old veteran Jonathan J. Schulze visited the St. Cloud Veterans Affairs Medical Center seeking admittance to the mental health unit. Schulze was placed on a waiting list and several days later committed suicide.

Spokesperson for the St. Cloud VA Medical Center, Joan Vincent said the hospital provides many resources for soldiers reintegrating into the community.

Vincent said the hospital currently treats physical injuries, including many soldiers with skeletal and muscular injuries caused by the heavy body armor worn during combat.

As far as mental health, some soldiers face problems with depression, hyper-vigilance and posttraumatic stress disorder, she said.

Vincent said the hospital works closely with the Department of Defense and the Minnesota National Guard to assess the needs of soldiers.

“We’re leaving no stone unturned,” she said.

The University also offers resources to student veterans.

Along with Boynton’s Mental Health Clinic, which provides counseling sessions, there is also the Veterans Certification office and the Veterans Resource office located in Frasier Hall.

The University also will host the Veterans Advisory Committee, which will bring colleges, students and faculty together to asses the needs of University veterans, said the director of Boynton’s Mental Health Clinic, Dr. Gary Christenson. The committee will meet for the first time today.

As of Tuesday there have been 3,184 Americans casualties since the war in Iraq began in 2003. Holbrook said he is thankful not to be one of them.

“You appreciate everything,” he said.

Since returning from his tour of duty in August 2006, Holbrook enrolled in the University ROTC program to pursue a career as a military officer. He has earned two Purple Hearts for his service in Iraq and Afghanistan.