Samantha L. Quigley - American Forces Press Service
Between physical and fiscal challenges, severely injured servicemembers and spouses who don’t hold college degrees may find earning one a bit daunting. The University of Idaho is working to change that. With a slogan of “You’ve served us; now let us serve you – with a college degree,” the school launched Operation Education in June 2006.
“Operation Education is a scholarship program that was designed to provide financial and social support for disabled veterans who have been wounded since … 9/11,” Karen White, the scholarship’s chairman, said. “The program is individually tailored to each applicant and what that particular person or that family unit’s needs are.”
That can be as little as help with child care all the way to tuition, fees, and books to housing and other support necessary for injured servicemembers to attend classes.
“Because of their injuries, they are generally eligible for vocational rehabilitation,” White, who holds a doctorate in physical therapy, said. “So besides what they may have gotten through their military service, … we fill in the gaps.”
Servicemembers applying for University of Idaho Operation Education scholarships must have been severely injured on active duty since Sept. 11, 2001, and must be accepted by the university. Idaho students are given priority. The scholarship also is open to spouses, White said.
“So, if the instance happens where the veteran is not able to or not interested in coming to school, then his or her spouse could come and partake in getting a higher education,” she said. “Or, if both wanted to come to school, we would be happy to fund the … two of them.”
Operation Education began when one of the university’s development officers attended a holiday gathering at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, White said. She was so moved by the patients’ spirit and fortitude that she started working on a way for a university all the way across the country to say, “thank you.”
“The natural answer was higher education,” White said. “Being a university, that is how we could help and what we could offer.”
So far, the university has offered that opportunity to three veterans. The first scholar started in January and has since graduated, found a job and bought a house in the area, White said, adding that he only needed assistance for a semester.
“We still have two, and we want it to be a small program,” she said. “I think max, we could handle three, maybe four new students per year.”
More than that and the individualization of the program would suffer, she said.
White said she is hoping to encourage other colleges and universities to start similar programs.
“Use the name. Use the idea,” she said. “I am more than willing to share with any college … what we’ve learned, our forms, our focus or ideas.”
One thing she’s learned, White said, is that lots of people believe in the program and have shown it through financial support. The scholarship has been completely funded through private money.
“We’ve had a wonderful outpouring of support,” White said. “Primarily (it’s been) from University of Idaho alums, but also some folks who have just heard about the scholarship and were impressed with what we were doing and have chosen to send money our way.”
Frequently those donors have had a military connection, she added. In fact, Army officers Meagan Bacharach and Chris Rizzo, who are planning their January 2008 wedding, have found a unique way to support the program.
Bacharach, whose parents are University of Idaho alums, and Rizzo have added Operation Education and another Special Operation Warrior Foundation to their bridal registry.
“Between the two of us, we really have enough things,” Bacharach said in an Operation Education news release.
This gesture thrilled White, who thinks Operation Education is an appropriate gesture for the university to make to the nation’s servicemembers.
“It just seemed like such a natural way to thank and acknowledge those men and women who have sacrificed so much for our freedom and our country,” she said.
Editor's Note: To find out about more individuals, groups and organizations that are helping support the troops, visit "America Supports You". America Supports You is a Defense Department program that directly connects military members to the support of the America people and offers a tool to the general public in their quest to find meaningful ways to support the military community.