A soldier’s journey from the battlefield to the classroom

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Louis Rossi, on Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2016.

Alex Delaney-Gesing

Kent State sophomore entrepreneurship major Louis Rossi remembers the exact day he was hit by an improvised explosive device (IED) while serving in Afghanistan: Oct. 28, 2012.

Rossi enlisted in the Army in the fall following his 2011 high school graduation and was assigned to serve overseas in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, for nine months. As a combat engineer, he and a team of soldiers worked route clearance — driving around and clearing the roads of bombs so American convoys could transport equipment and food to other bases.

“Everyday we would roll out of the gate, and you had to come to grips that you were going into imminent danger and there was a great chance you weren’t going to come back through that gate,” Rossi said.

Rossi, now 22, joined the military after spending his childhood fascinated with the concept of serving in the armed forces.

“I love helping people (and) the militant mindset,” he said. “ I wanted to do it and achieve it myself.

The orderly and disciplined lifestyle of the military gave Rossi a sense of purpose and duty for him to accomplish, day in and day out.

“You woke up everyday and knew what you were going to do, what your job was,” he said. “But you didn’t know what was going to be the outcome.”

Throughout his service, Rossi witnessed and experienced first-hand the damage IEDs can do to soldiers while completing hundreds of missions on the road.

“There really wasn’t time for fear, if that makes sense,” he said. “You would just do your job, whatever it would entail.”

In October 2012, while carrying out a route clearance mission, Rossi’s convoy was struck by an IED bomb buried by the road.

“I remember when the bomb detonated and blew the back windshield of the truck out,” he said. “Looking over at the guy next to me — that was where I kind of lost it.”

After treatment at a medical facility, Rossi resumed his duties. More than a month later, he underwent surgery for injuries sustained from the IED blast; a triple hernia. In May 2013, he completed his service and returned home. Upon his return, Rossi faced the challenge of settling back into the life he led before his departure.

“It was just looking at the world differently after you just went through everything that you saw, through a different set of eyes,” he said. “You learn who’s really there for you and who’s not.

In fall 2014, Rossi enrolled at Kent State. Double majoring in entrepreneurship and nursing anesthetist, he has applied his military discipline to a new obstacle: Pursuing a bachelor’s degree.

Kent State, recognized as a Military Friendly School in the state of Ohio for the seventh year in a row, offers programs and services to military service members and veterans on the G.I. Bill in support of furthering their education.

The university has approximately 700 military service members and veterans attending classes at its eight regional campuses this spring semester, according to Dawn Plug, assistant director of the Center for Adult and Veteran Services (CAV) at the Kent campus.

Of that number, 450 veterans and service members are enrolled at the Kent campus, Plug said.

Having grown up in Youngstown, Ohio, choosing Kent State was a no-brainer for Rossi.

“It was just far enough away from home to be in my own bubble, but close enough so that if anything were to happen to family or friends, I could still get there,” he said.

For Rossi, acclimating to campus life has proven to be as much of an obstacle as it is easy.

“Doing what we had to do over there – focusing on the task at hand, making sure it gets completed – and now applying that to school work, (makes) college a breeze,” he said.

While academics themselves are an easy enough assignment to fulfill on their own, the school environment that comes with learning has proven to be a hurdle for Rossi.

“I have (post-traumatic stress disorder),” he said. “Being around large crowds (in a classroom) kind of make you wary of where you are and it’s really hard to just focus on what the professor is going over, versus who walked in the door, what was that sound; somebody dropped a pencil.”

To help with the distractions of a classroom-setting, Rossi turned to Kent State’s Student Accessibility Services, located in the DeWeese Health Center.

Along with students who have been diagnosed with PTSD, those with some form of a learning disability are able to register with SAS to receive time for tests/quizzes, a reduced distraction testing environment and the ability to (audio) tape-record lectures, according to Amy Quillin, director of SAS at the Kent campus.

“With notes, SAS is able to provide a note taker for each class that can cover me if I miss a small paragraph or a few sentences in class,” he said. “It’s an asset that needs to be more well-known around campus; they’re absolutely incredible.”

Along with the resources of SAS, Rossi has had the support of his family and friends to turn to as well as other veterans on campus.

“I have one of the best support groups that I believe is in existence,” he said. “I’ve been able to rely on (my friends and family) throughout all of it.”

While having the support of his friends and family is an asset, connecting with other students on campus can still have its challenges.

“It’s difficult; not everybody understands or even attempts to understand (what you went through),” Rossi said. “There’s a lot of people that kind of undermine it and pass it off as if it’s nothing and then there’s others that really glorify it, are genuinely proud to shake your hand, talk to you and be a friend.”

“(For younger veterans), there is a harder path to finding where you fit in on campus,” Plug said.

Kent State’s Veterans Club, located on the first floor of the Student Center at the Kent campus, serves as a home base for military veterans and servicemembers to turn to for support and assistance in pursuing their education.

“Sometimes we have a hard time relating to other students on campus,” said Ryan Lewand, president of the vets club. “(The club) gives you a good sense of belonging; you can connect (easier) with the people there.”

The vets club is just one component of Kent State that aims to accommodate veterans and servicemembers with their post-service life and post-secondary education.

The University Health Services in the DeWeese Health Center offers psychological services with six licensed psychologists for those who have been diagnosed with PTSD and other medical conditions, according to the university’s website.

“CAV really hit the nail in the head with servicing (vets and service members)” Rossi said. “If any of us have suggestions about a service that could better our opportunities here, they really focus and listen to us.

With the services Kent State administers through CAV, Rossi feels that there are a multitude of avenues student veterans and servicemembers can use to their advantage.

“Raise a hand, ask a question, call somebody. No matter what the issue, there’s somebody that’s willing to do something for you,” he said. “So just ask.”

Alex Delaney-Gesing is a general assignment reporter for The Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected]