AW2 Soldiers and Veterans participate in a Veterans Day parade that AW2 Advocate Eric Mitchell helped organize
The following is an interview that AW2 conducted with Colorado Springs-based AW2 Advocate Eric Mitchell. Eric spent 23 years in the Army, including 17 as an Army Career Counselor. Following his service, Eric worked at Fort Carson as a contractor working for the In-Service Transition program. He currently serves on a number of community-based boards and recently served on the selections board for the Colorado Technical University Wounded Warriors Scholarship Fund, which has awarded 87 scholarships to wounded warriors and their Families.
Tell us about Colorado Technical University’s programs for wounded warriors and their Families. What services and support does CTU offer?
The CTU Wounded Warrior Scholarships and Wounded Warrior Spouse Scholarships are full-ride scholarships that allow students to complete their next higher degree. All tuition and course materials are included in the scholarship. Each wounded warrior is given a new laptop computer, which they get to keep at the completion of their course work. Each student works closely with a student advisor to address any issues that may arise related to their recovery and their education. CTU shares the AW2 philosophy that recovering is the Soldier’s primary mission, and CTU works with the Soldier to help make going to school and getting their degree correspond with their primary mission. As an example, the Colorado Springs CTU campus has already implemented plans to provide individualized assistance to local students to ensure they are successful in their educational pursuits.
How did you get involved with CTU?
I have been a member of the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce, Military Affairs Council (MAC) for about five years. Two years ago, while at a MAC event, Greg Mitchell (President, CTU — Colorado Springs) provided an informational briefing about the CTU Wounded Warriors Scholarships. When I came to AW2, I made sure I became involved to make sure our AW2 Soldiers, Veterans and their Families had the best possible opportunity to apply for and win a scholarship. Over the last year, CTU has not only been working with AW2 to help Soldiers and Veterans with educational opportunities, but CTU had also been extremely generous in providing financial assistance to wounded warriors in need. CTU has included Advocates in their internal educational training workshops on working with wounded warriors who have PTSD, TBI, and other disabilities. CTU has also opened numerous doors with other organizations within the community to help our wounded warriors adjust to their new norms and be all that they can be. Greg and CTU have even provided funding for a specially designed “rugby wheelchair” for an AW2 Veteran of mine who is a quadriplegic and who is attempting to become a Paralympian.
What was meeting AW2 Soldier MAJ Tammy Duckworth like? What perspective did she bring to the process?
It was a great honor to meet Secretary Duckworth and her husband, MAJ Bryan W. Bowlsbey. During dinner, I was amazed at her spirit and her great sense of humor. Secretary Duckworth showed all of us that there is a full life after a very serious injury. Secretary Duckworth noticed my AW2 lapel pin, and we instantly connected. I was also fortunate to participate on the Wounded Warrior Scholarship Selection Board with Secretary Duckworth. Secretary Duckworth brought a no-nonsense professionalism to the committee, and she instilled a sense in each of us that we were about to change the lives of Soldiers, Veterans, and their Families forever. She stressed that we needed to ensure the scholarships went to not only those who were the most deserving, but to those who would be most impacted. Secretary Duckworth exemplifies the model that it is about ability, not disability. It was also an honor to meet Mrs. Marie Tillman, spouse of Army Ranger and former Arizona Cardinal, SGT Pat Tillman. Mrs. Tillman was the Chair of the Wounded Warrior Spouse Scholarship Committee, and she was a great asset to the CTU scholarship process.
How many AW2 Soldiers and Veterans have received scholarships from CTU?
CTU has awarded 87 scholarships to wounded servicemembers over the past two years. Soldiers, Marines, and Airmen have all been recipients of the scholarships. Over the last two years, 37 of the Wounded Warriors scholarships went to wounded Army servicemembers. In the past, locations like Walter Reed, BAMC, and Bethesda were the only sites that were able to apply for the scholarships. This year CTU made two major changes to their program. First, they expanded it to several locations with large wounded warrior populations. Second, they instituted a Wounded Warrior Spouse Scholarships program for the spouses of our wounded warriors. These scholarships will allow these spouses to get the education they need to support their Families. This year, AW2 Soldiers, Veterans, and Spouses received all 25 wounded warrior scholarships and all 25 wounded warrior spouse scholarships.
Can you share a personal story of how the CTU program has made an impact on an AW2 Soldier or Veteran’s life?
There would be 87 outstanding examples of how these Wounded Warrior Scholarships have affected Soldiers and Families. One of the best examples is of an AW2 Soldier, SSG Damien Wilson, from Fort Stewart, GA. SSG Wilson was injured in Baghdad, Iraq. While recovering at Walter Reed, he saw the CTU Scholarship Application and applied. SSG Wilson was subsequently awarded a scholarship for an associates degree in general studies. In March, I received notice that CTU was graduating their first graduate from the program, and I was asked to attend the graduation. I was informed CTU would be bringing the Soldier and his Family to Colorado Springs to attend the graduation. I worked with SSG Wilson’s AW2 Advocate, Nicholas Alexuk, to coordinate the event and I was honored to attend SSG Wilson’s graduation, as a representative of AW2 Advocate Alexuk and AW2. SSG Wilson’s underlying theme throughout the graduation activities was that he wanted to set an example for his children that even with his severe injuries, he was able to go to school and get a college education. SSG Wilson was recognized by the keynote speaker and the President of CTU while receiving three standing ovations during the ceremony. SSG Wilson is the first in his Family to get a college degree, and he is continuing his education to pursue a bachelor degree.
Are there any other opportunities in Colorado coming up that you would like to share with the AW2 community?
Colorado Springs and the State of Colorado are absolutely one of the greatest areas in the country in supporting our military, both active duty Soldiers and Veterans. Working from within the County Veterans Services Office in El Paso County, Colorado, I am able to not only support my Veteran population, but also reach out to local organizations who want to support our Soldiers and Families. There is seldom a day that goes by where there isn’t at least one organization that wants to provide support or assistance to our Soldiers or Veterans. I recently met with the United States Olympic Committee, U.S. Paralympics Division to expand the outreach within the wounded warrior population, the City of Colorado Springs, and the USOC.
For more information about CTU, visit http://www.coloradotech.edu/.
The appearance of external hyperlinks does not constitute endorsement by the United States Department of Defense of the linked web sites, or the information, products or services contained therein. For other than authorized activities such as military exchanges and Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) sites, the United States Department of Defense does not exercise any editorial control over the information you may find at these locations.