Sergeant Adam Widner had just finished nine months of personal-security detail in Afghanistan, where he was constantly on alert for those seeking to harm or kill him and others.
When he returned stateside in 2008, Adam was withdrawn socially, was hyper-vigilant, and suffered insomnia. He had significant hurdles to clear while transitioning back into civilian life and into a crowded college campus after exiting the battlefield.
His unsuccessful search for a veteran-friendly school nearly ended his college career before it began. Thankfully Kent State University (KSU) took Adam's call.
"Had Kent State not answered the phone, I probably wouldn't have looked any further into college," Adam said. "There are only so many times you are going to get that door shut in your face and keep trying."
That initial warm reception from KSU was not a fluke; instead it was a sign of things to come. The university's Center for Adult and Veteran Services (CAVS), which would formally open in January 2010, offered veterans-only orientation courses.
Institutions of higher education in many states are beginning to effectively collaborate to develop and disseminate state-wide best practices in supporting wounded student-warriors.
"Anyone could have walked in there with nothing but negativity on their shoulders, and they would have walked out feeling good about themselves and their service," said Adam, noting how important it was to be integrated into the student population through a mix of online courses, veterans-only courses, and mixed-population courses.
Personal understanding is exactly what veterans like Adam need when seeking higher education. The staff at KSU recognized Adam's behaviors -- being socially withdrawn and hyper-vigilant -- and continually made the effort to connect Adam with other veterans and to engage him in veteran activities. That persistence paid off when Adam agreed to be introduced to Joe Gross, an area outreach coordinator for Wounded Warrior Project (WWP).
"Joe saved my life," Adam said. "He got me all the help I could ask for. He got me into the vet center and talked me into going to the VA. I very much owe my life to Joe. Joe got me out of my house."
By getting out of his house and engaged with others, Adam also got involved with the Kent State Vets Club, which was in its infancy.
"Once I got the help with WWP and got affiliated with the student veterans' organization on campus, I really opened up," Adam said. "The Kent State Vets Club makes sure there is a camaraderie outside of class, so when you get in class you aren't separated from the general population. They want veterans to be a part of their community."
Adam said as he became more and more comfortable on campus, his grades began to improve accordingly: "I started raising my hand in class."
Adam graduated cum laude in August 2011, earning a bachelor's degree in general studies with concentrations in political science, communications, geography, and non-profit management.
"The only reason I really succeeded in the end was that Kent State resembled the selfless service that I found in the military," Adam said.