From Combat Injury to College Classroom

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by Eric Jensen

Wounded veteran studies electrical engineering

Student Angel Ramirez strolls across the campus of Victoria College and acknowledges his instructors and fellow students. The academic scene is peaceful, but just a few years earlier, the 26-year-old was lying on the ground in Baghdad, wounded after being hit in the leg by shrapnel from a rocket-propelled grenade.

The injury took a quarter of an inch of bone from his left leg. Ramirez’s unit was under fire, so it was nearly two hours before he could be evacuated to a medical facility. Once there, doctors operated on the leg and gave him three blood transfusions. A steel rod was inserted in his leg, two pins placed in his knee, and another two pins in his ankle. Skin was removed from his thigh to cover injured parts of Ramirez’s left leg.

“I love being here because I want to be here. It’s a lot easier than I thought it would be, and I have very good teachers.”

Ramirez joined the U. S. Army in 2005 and took basic and advanced training as an infantryman at Fort Benning, Georgia. He was deployed to Baghdad in 2007 and was at the forward operating base where former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was executed.

Before sustaining the injury that sent him home, Ramirez recalls his unit being attacked at least five times, once with a chlorine bomb that Iraqi insurgents detonated near Army convoys. Enemy snipers picked off those who bailed out of their vehicles, so soldiers learned to drive through the attacks and get cleaned up later.

“It sucks to be hit, but I was relieved to be coming home,” Ramirez says of his leg injury.

Once stateside, Ramirez was placed in the Warrior Transition Program to determine if he could return to duty. There, he was given a choice to be reclassified to serve in a nonphysical assignment or be medically discharged.

“I took the discharge so I could start school,” he says.

His wife was attending Victoria College while taking care of twin babies, “and me,” Ramirez recalls. He enrolled in electrical courses offered by VC’s Workforce & Continuing Education Department, using veterans benefits from the state. This year, he began taking academic courses at VC to start working toward an electrical engineering degree.

“I love being here because I want to be here,” he says of campus life. “It’s a lot easier than I thought it would be, and I have very good teachers.”

The college’s Veterans Service Advisor helped him develop a degree plan and assisted him in obtaining veteran benefits, such as Vocational Rehabilitation.

Thanks to the Vocational Rehabilitation program, Ramirez and his family will have few financial worries during his academic career. The 48-month program covers the cost of books and supplies and pays him a stipend each month.

“It’s a GI Bill for veterans with disability rating,” explains Staci Kelly, Victoria College Veterans Services Advisor. “The state of Texas really puts an effort forward for these veteran students.”

“Whenever I think something is hard, I think back and remember, ‘It could be a lot worse. I could be back in Iraq,’” the wounded veteran says, smiling.

Once Ramirez finishes his studies at Victoria College, he plans to transfer to Texas A&M University Corpus Christi and earn a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. CF

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