When Nathan Bolema graduated from high school his father talked him out of joining the Army.
Instead, he went to work in the family lumber business, eventually attended college and several years later was unhappily working a marketing manager job in Michigan.
"I was sitting in a cubical making calls, and not at all fulfilled. The idea of serving my country never went away. So I enlisted."
That was 2007. Now, the sergeant is back at Fort Carson awaiting discharge related to injuries, and dealing with all the new challenges in his life.
Bolema is one of 25 injured soldiers and veterans who have received $20,000 scholarships from Colorado Technical University's Wounded Warrior program. Twenty-five military spouses will get scholarships for the same amount, too.
Bolema and his wife Audrey Bolema and the others were honored at a dinner recently at Briarhurst Manor.
“We were really surprised and are excited about it,” Bolema said. They saw the scholarship applications on a bulletin board at Fort Carson and applied, writing a long essay about how the scholarships would help them re-create their lives. Bolema, who has an undergraduate degree in business and is just finishing up an MBA, hopes to get a Ph.D in business organizational development.
Audrey will work on a master’s in business with emphasis on environment and social sustainability.
Nathan, 32, who grew up in Michigan, is the first of six siblings to graduate college. After enlisting, he was deployed to Afghanistan. “I have a lot of pride in what our country has accomplished.”
Looking back, he said, it seems a “surreal experience.” He was in a security platoon conducting logistic patrols along the Afghan/Pakistan border.
“We were in the middle of it,” he said. They were prone to ambushes and saw much fighting.
“I lost a battle buddy,” he said.
Among the duties were helping escort convoys and securing voting sites for the Afghanistan election.
“It was good to see them voting, and improving. We are doing a good thing over there,” Nathan said.
During one patrol, he received neck and back injuries when his vehicle was hit by a rocket propelled grenade. He finished out his deployment, but the pain got so bad he couldn’t put on his shoes or lift even light items.
He had back surgery, but is working to regain feeling in his right leg. Neck pain and other health problems persist, but he shrugs it off.
“It could have been a lot worse. I’ve had friends lose their legs. There have been so many sacrifices for freedom – blood and sweat back to the Revolutionary War. We wouldn’t be here if there hadn’t been.”
Audrey said she experienced a lot of sleepless nights during his deployment and battled to stay positive. She received support from family and a girlfriend whose husband was also deployed, and kept busy with her administrative assistant job.
The two met in Michigan and married before he deployed. They had another ceremony last year on a beach at Lake Michigan.
They are now eager for the next stage of their life. One idea has been to start a physical therapy business that would help other wounded warriors. Audrey has worked as a massage therapist.
They will be working civilian jobs, taking care of their daughter Brylee, who was born seven weeks ago. And then of course, there will be school and studying.
Nathan notes, “We’ll be burning the candle at both ends.”
The CTU Wounded Warrior and Wounded Warrior Spouses Scholarship recipients are chosen by two selection committees that include current and former military members and educators.
Jim Hendrickson, CTU vice president of military education, said: “For all the sacrifices the Bolemas gave for Nathan to serve our country, we’re proud to be able to give back with these scholarships.”