Updated: December 11, 2009 at 12:00 am
Haunted by nightmares, chronic pain and crippling depression, Spc. Andrew Trotto was bent on beating his demons no matter what the cost.
“The last straw before they sent me home (from Iraq) was me in a bathroom with an M16 against my head,” he said.
Nearly a year later, the 22-year-old Fort Carson soldier who survived repeated explosions in Iraq said he is getting treatment for lingering symptoms that include suicidal impulses and angry outbursts.
This week, he was among five “wounded warriors” from Colorado Springs who received help of a different kind: the chance to get an education while recovering from war injuries.
The soldiers received full scholarships for a two-year degree program at Colorado Technical University, a for-profit university with a campus in Colorado Springs. Most will enroll in online courses as a flexible way of improving career prospects, either by accruing points toward a promotion or to prepare for the future if their medical problems end their military career.
The Wounded Warrior Scholarship program was developed two years ago after a university official volunteered at Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington D.C. and saw that wounded soldiers were growing bored of the videogames and television they used to occupy themselves, said Jim Hendrickson, the scholarship program director.
Since then, 100 soldiers from across the country have received scholarships, he said. The awards include a laptop computer and cover the full cost of their tuition, program fees and books.
“This is something that I think a lot more institutions should consider,” said Eric Mitchell, an advocate in the U.S. Army Wounded Warrior Program, which works with each of the soldiers who received scholarships. Unlike the Army’s tuition assistance, soldiers will keep the scholarships even if they are released from duty. The help from CTU means they will be able to save money from their G.I. Bill for further education, should they choose to pursue it.
Spouses also were eligible to receive scholarships for the first time this year, in recognition that they are just as involved in a family’s fight to regain normalcy after a life-changing deployment, the university said.
Katelynn Jordan, 22, was among seven military wives in Colorado Springs who was awarded a scholarship this year.
Her husband, 22-year-old Cpl. Matt Jordan, endured nine surgeries and a five-month-long stay at Walter Reed after his leg was shattered by an explosion in Iraq earlier this year. The former high school football running back has been told that he’ll never run again.
At the recent award ceremony, Katelynn Jordan said she intends to take care of college prerequisites at Colorado Technical University before working toward a pharmacist’s license.
“The Army has lots of opportunities for soldiers with the G.I. Bill, but it doesn’t have anything for the wives,” Matt Jordan said.
“This means that I’m going to help him now,” she said.
Scholarship winner Spc. Eric Sassenfeld, 27, suffered a traumatic brain injury from repeated explosions in Iraq in as part of the 764th Explosive Ordnance Disposal Company, which deployed in 2006. With few career opportunities for bomb technicians, he plans to study computer forensics with the goal of joining a law enforcement unit devoted to fighting internet crimes against children, fraud and other burgeoning computer-related crime.
Trotto was injured by rocket-propelled grenade fire and other explosions while serving as a gunner in Iraq with the 3rd Brigade Combat Team. Sent home two months early because of his suicidal impulses, he said he has found a measure of stability through the help of Fort Carson’s Warrior Transition Unit, which serves soldiers with critical injuries and illnesses who are not yet fit to rejoin a unit or transition out of the Army.
Some of his health problems, such as pain from a severe back injury, may never go away. Nonetheless, he wants to be cleared to rejoin a different unit, and hopes a degree will open doors for a continued career in the military.
“They offered to give me a medical discharge, but I stopped them,” he said. “I want to become an officer. I want to help enlisted soldiers get the help that they need when they ask for it.”
Call the writer at 636-0366