replica watches represents the spirit of exploration and pursuit of the unknown.
My time with Sentinels of Freedom has been extremely beneficial as well as giving me peace of mind. While I have been in school, I have had a number of events that had a great impact on my life giving me the opportunity to shift focus on myself and what I need to do for my future. The financial assistance offered to me offered me the opportunity to keep the focus on my studies. So often I saw students both young and old in school that had a tremendous amount of stress on themselves with how they were going to be able to afford tuition, books, and basic living expenses. I was blessed to never lose sight of my goals to worry about those things thanks to SOF.
While in school you are surrounded by other students and faculty but there is always a sense of being on your own. I always had Samantha Chapman to reach out to on what I am doing. Samantha was always a kind voice to hear who showed true interest in my health and well-being. Whenever I accomplished my short-term goals, she always congratulated me and celebrated my victories. The worksheets on goals and budgets proved to be an important step in providing me with the momentum to stay the course.
Now that I have graduated from UTSA I have applied to the law enforcement academy here in San Antonio. The academy is not affiliated with anyone particular police department which gives me the opportunity to get my peace officer license without committing to a specific department. The academy is roughly eight months, in the end, I will be able to apply to a medium to the small-sized department and begin my career as a police officer.
Over the years I have learned a lot about myself. I was bitter, angry, and lost when I was retired from the Marine Corps. As many do, I lost my sense of purpose and struggled. I started school worried in the beginning as I was not a strong student in high school. I started school with no real plan and treated the long process with the same mentality I had when I went to boot camp. I only concentrated one week at a time and did not think about the long game. That process helped me not worry or become anxious. What I learned about myself more than anything is that I am capable of so much more than I thought. Sentinels of Freedom offered me more than anything an opportunity to rediscover who I am and what I want to do going forward. I can’t begin to explain how much appreciation I have for Sentinels of Freedom and the opportunities they give to all the veterans who can call the SOF family.
Since graduation from UTSA, I have attended a law enforcement academy where I gained my peace officer license. I have recently begun applying to police departments in my area. I have recently tested with a department and look forward to joining the ranks again of a team where I can give back to a community that has given me a chance to find my path again.
I would like to personally thank everyone who makes Sentinels of Freedom possible. All the staff and donors have no idea just how much they mean to me and the rest of the veterans they help. Thank you so much, you all have given me the opportunity to find my new purpose.
Dear Sentinels of Freedom (SOF) Staff and Team,
I want to take this opportunity to really thank you for everything you have done for my education and for assisting in developing Prime and my startup companies, the Underwater Torpedo League and Deep End Fitness. Without your financial assistance, we would not have had the personal cash flow to continue to attend school and work on our companies. That has definitely been the most beneficial aspect of SOF for me. But, besides the financial assistance, your kind mentorship, opening up your network, and telling our story has also been a huge part of my success in my academic endeavors.
One of the difficult aspects of the transition was learning and understanding the application process to get into 4-year universities. During the time I was applying to schools, SOF was able to provide me with a mentor, Larry Schoenfeld, a retired reservist Army Lt. Col. Larry was amazing and reached out to his network to provide me with extremely informative information sessions for Stanford University, and the University of Southern California (USC) for my undergrad business program. Although I did not get into those schools, the mentoring process allowed me to take the things I have learned and applied them to getting into Chapman University, and a few other Southern California universities.
My current plans to go straight into an Executive MBA Program at the University of Southern California, I believe that attending this caliber of program can really slingshot our companies by accessing the USC network. I also plan to continue to grow and expand our two companies nationally by increasing the number of locations we have and growing our exposure and influence through national media networks.
Throughout my two years with SOF, I have learned that it is okay to ask for help if you need it. Coming from the Marine Raider Community, it is often difficult to ask for help because of too much self-pride but everyone needs help once in a while. With the help, it can make you stronger and be able to help others in the future.
I want to thank you again for all the amazing opportunities the SOF Team has provided for me and I will continue to recommend and endorse SOF until the end of time. I know this will not be the end of me reaching out to you or our relationship. I look forward to meeting you all again soon! Cheers and God Bless.
Sincerely and respectfully,
SOF program has been assisting me since the day I arrived back in the United States after suffering injuries sustained in Afghanistan. Mike Conklin was at my bedside and told me SOF would be here to support me whenever I was ready. I never planned on reaching out until several years later; I decided to retire and pursue a law degree. I reached out to Mike and told him of my desire to pursue a law degree. The next day I received a call from my new “mentor,” the Honorable Jack Farley, retired judge of the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. The mentorship given to me by Judge Farley was invaluable and helped set me on a path to complete my law degree.
I had to overcome a significant number of hurdles to attend law school, but the most challenging transition was not anything physical, but rather, it was mental. I was not too fond of crowds, and large class sizes would be an issue for me. Judge Farley and I discussed the possible choices for me to attend law school, and the Catholic University of America seemed to fit my needs best. My finances were also a concern to me due to the reduction in my pay. SOF helped relieve some of that stress with a monthly stipend for the first year of law school. These items may seem trivial to some, but for me, it was life-changing.
After graduation, my current plans are preparing for the District of Columbia’s Bar exam and a job search within the Defense industry. I do not feel I have completed law school because I am spending countless hours in my bar prep course. Juggling the class and my kids’ extracurricular activities have been exhausting, but I am thankful to SOF for helping me to get into the position I am in now.
My injuries have reshaped my family and my life altogether. SOF helped me not to forget that there are still good people in this world. Strangers reaching out to help me seemed unreal and made me distrustful. SOF reopened that door of trust I have closed off to the world. I wish to continue on the path of doing some good in this world. The skills I honed as a Naval Officer – leadership, relationship building, trust, adapting to chaos – combined with my Juris doctorate will be instrumental in allowing me to continue to serve my community and country in a new capacity.
Dear Samantha Chapman and members of SOF,
I want to express my deepest gratitude for giving me the opportunity to be part of this great organization. The sentinels of freedom program provided me with the financial stability I needed in my greatest time of need. The program director Samantha Chapman provide me with excellent feedback and direction when I needed it the most. The learning experience I’ve gathered from this organization I will carry wherever I may go. I’ve learned how to balance my budget and my personal life in my short experience with the organization. The most beneficial thing that I can take away from this program is the guidance they provided me and to take on pushing towards my goals.
During my time in the program, I’ve suffered ups and downs but the individuals in the program helped me through those hard times. The most difficult part of my transition into civilian life was maintaining a balanced budget and the program provided me with the knowledge to keep up with my debts. I’ve completed my radiology technologist program and I’m looking to further my education in this modality in CT and MRI. The most important thing I learned about myself throughout this program is to never give up and always push myself to do better. I just want to thank the members of SOF for believing in me and providing me the tools to succeed.
I, Daniel Shankle, am writing this letter to describe my time with the Sentinels of Freedom (SOF). From start to finish, I was very impressed with the entire process. The application process went smoothly, and I thought everything involved with it was appropriate for what the program was offering. The web portal was not difficult to navigate, and the online instructions were well put together, making it easy to complete the process. Having a point person for me to contact took all the stress away from reaching out to the organization, as Samantha Chapman was always available to answer my questions and guide me along the process. As far as the process goes, I’m not sure I could offer any insight on how to make it better. I was extremely impressed with how smooth everything ran and greatly appreciated that aspect of the program.
The two major points of the program I was able to take advantage of was the scholarship and personal assistance for help with my resume and other guidance. I thought the most beneficial aspect was the Scholarship provided by the Sentinels of Freedom; because of this, I was able to work numerous unpaid internships in the digital marketing field. While there are paid internships, they very few in number and highly competitive. The monthly stipend helped me cover my rent, especially in the summer months when the GI Bill’s housing allowance was cut off when I wasn’t in class. This stipend provided me with a great opportunity to explore the digital marketing field firsthand while gaining valuable experience. Not having to worry about my financials allowed me to be to put all my effort into learning about the field I wanted to work in after graduation.
Before completing my BBA in Marketing from the University of San Diego, I began to apply for jobs at digital marketing agencies in San Diego. These agencies are highly competitive as numerous students from the surrounding universities apply for the limited slots available every year. Because of my internship experience, I was able to land an interview with, Seer Interactive, a highly rated digital marketing agency in downtown San Diego. As I progressed through the very in-depth interview process, it became clear that I didn’t have some software skills and the agency experience needed for the full-time position I was applying for. However, during the four interviews, I conducted, I was able to impress the team with my desire to learn the field and work ethic, demonstrated by the things I had accomplished while at my internships. Because of this, I was offered a slot in their competitive summer internship program with a path to hire upon completion. I am very excited about this opportunity as I knew I lacked the agency experience and some of the software skills needed for the full-time position I was applying for. Seer Interactive extended me an offer to teach me these things, providing me a path to become an SEO Associate upon completing their three-month internship program.
Starting a career with a top digital marketing agency is extremely difficult as there are very few positions available, with numerous college grads applying for them. The SOF Scholarship provided me with an opportunity to work numerous internships while completing my degree. This provided me with numerous job descriptions for my resume and discussion topics I could talk about during the interview process. Had I not had the scholarship; I might have had to sacrifice interning in my field for a paid position not related to marketing. Then I would have lacked the much-needed experience to be competitive during the interview process. Because of this, I am extremely grateful for the Sentinels of Freedom, as their scholarship allowed me the opportunity to continue on my desired path.
What an amazing journey it has been academically, physically, and spiritually since we began to work with one another in 2017. I have, “grown-up” in so many ways and have done this with your continued support and love. SOF has been more than just a monthly stipend, in fact, it has become a family for me since leaving the service. I have been exposed to so many different opportunities through the program and have met many servicemen and women who are current and former active SOF recipients. My journey at Columbia and my transition to Colorado in less-than-ideal means have all been supported by SOF and the staff. When times were tough, I could call on anyone to vent and or brainstorm aloud. I am not sure where I would be without the support of SOF and its staff today.
As many may or may not know, my transition much like my fellow brothers and sisters has been a rough one. I had many demons to confront and various physical conditions to look after. This came at a price and I eventually spent two weeks in isolation inside of a psychiatrist after attempting suicide. Upon my release, SOF went above and beyond to make sure that I was well and on a healthy path. I spent time weekly on the phone with Havilah just talking and had several outings with Samantha. SOF did not have to do this, but again, SOF has become a second family that truly cares about all aspects of my transition.
After spending a short time in corporate America and getting wrapped up in the never-ending hustle and bustle of having to “make it,” I truly found myself. I knew then, and I know now, that I want to be in business and use not only my hands but my intellect as well. After contemplating various paths, I have decided to go back to school to pursue a mechanical engineering degree. I can finally say that I am happy and content with the direction I am now going.
SOF has done a great job of teaching me that the world is filled with a plethora of people that want to give in any way possible to see my transition and professional dreams become a reality. Prior to my interactions with SOF staff, my outlook of the world was dark and gloomy. I can now say that I have people I can trust and count on if I ever need anything. I appreciate this aspect the most about the SOF staff and community.
Thank you for being such an integral support system in my transition to the civilian world.
Adam J. Pawlowski
Sentinels of Freedom Staff,
When I began my journey in what I initially believed would be an easy task to complete a Bachelor’s degree, I was excited and motivated. I was pursuing a degree in Horticulture with an emphasis on landscape design. At first, everything went as planned, but the amount of manual labor that would go into climbing that career ladder proved to be too much for some of my disabilities. I fell into a world of confusion and uncertainty because I had used a large portion of my GI-Bill on courses for which would no longer be useful in a change of career. A situation that happens to many veterans I have spoken to. In order to save some of my educational benefits, I paid out of pocket for a semester. Living in California and having to pay daycare for two children while attending school, quickly depleted my savings and I acquired some debt. Even though I kept pursuing my educational goals, doubt settled in from time to time. Fortunately, I was accepted by San Diego State University where I also heard about Sentinels of Freedom at the Veterans Resource Office. I still remember the first phone call I made inquiring about the application process. Carol Prell answered the phone and even though I was not yet accepted into the program, speaking to her really made me feel like people still cared for veterans like myself. Fast forward to my acceptance and the change that Sentinels of Freedom had on my personal and educational wellness was instantaneous.
I want to say that the financial assistance was the most beneficial to me but after much debate, it was the mental support that was provided that was most beneficial to me. Having someone to talk to about whatever issue I was having, really takes a weight off your shoulders. The peace of mind of having this organization supporting me, allowed me to be mentally engaged in my studies. It felt like I wasn’t doing it on my own and I needed to be held accountable for my goals. The financial assistance over the course of my studies made it possible for me to pay off my debt. Although it was nice to be debt-free, what that meant was that I was able to take on two internships that are now proving to be invaluable experiences. I’m not sure that I would have been able to fulfill my internship requirements for graduation had I not had this extra source of income to help support my family and me. Now that I am finished with my degree in Urban Studies (Urban Planning, Design, and Management), I am exploring the employment opportunities in the morale, welfare, and recreation planning department for the military. I now realize how important military support organizations are to an individual member’s well-being. If everything goes as planned I will be able to realize a career in planning for better infrastructure and program development for the military community. More importantly, those who will eventually have to deal with the same problems I faced.
Sentinels of Freedom also made me learn something about myself. I now know that I am able to ask for help and it doesn’t make me any less of a person. I know that I am allowed to change my mind as long as I have a plan. Being in the military, your life is guided and structured, once leaving the service many of us feel lost and left to fend for ourselves. Thank you for bridging that gap and giving me the guidance I didn’t know I needed while at the same time preparing me to learn how to do this on my own. This experience has broadened my goals and what I thought would be the end of my education, ended up being a stepping stone because I now feel more than capable of acquiring a Master’s degree in the near future.
First, I would like to thank all of the staff and board members of SOF for all of their hard work and their willingness to help all of the veterans. I know all of you probably wish there was more that you can do, but I just wanted to let you know that everything you have done to help me has been huge.
I think one of the things that helped me out the most was the ability to receive the housing allowance. As much as it sucks for me to say your money was helpful, it really was. It allowed me to focus less on trying to work overtime for a little extra money and I was able to focus more on my schoolwork. Maybe that isn’t the same for others, but my degree was in engineering technology. I had to take math classes and engineering classes online that I would have never dreamed of being able to do. With the extra time that was required to “teach me” through online learning the housing grant made it that much easier to focus on my schoolwork. There were some weeks where I was putting in 30 to 40 hours a week in homework on top of my normal job. Then on top of that, I was lucky enough to be provided a new laptop to assist with running some of the programs that I needed to run for my degree.
I also appreciated the reviews that we did. It may not have seemed like much, but it made me strive to keep going and do better each time I had a review. That allowed me to show all of you that supported me that your support was not going to waste. So again, thank you for your work to keep pushing me.
Because of the assistance of SOF, I was able to complete a degree in a field that required some serious work and effort on my part, and I was able to maintain some really good grades throughout the process. I graduated with cum laude honors!
Now that I have my degree, I plan on looking for a job that will fit in with the degree that I have. I would love to get into some sort of aeronautical engineering position. The hunt is on!
With sincere thanks,
I applied for assistance through the Sentinels of Freedom after my first semester of law school at LSU, at which point I was on the verge of giving up my dream of continued education. The financial burden of raising a family and attending school, in addition to the academic stress of the legal program, was having too great of a negative impact on my mental health. When the program director of the LSU veterans center recommended the Sentinels program, I was not optimistic.
I knew my experiences were different from other student veterans, but thanks in part to severe depression and anxiety, I had very low self-worth and I was having trouble being optimistic about anything. Now, two and a half years later, I have graduated with my Juris Doctorate, am studying for the Louisiana BAR exam, and am in a better place mentally and emotionally than I can ever remember being. As I begin looking for a career in the non-profit sector serving veterans, I know that applying for and being welcomed into the Sentinels of Freedom family was one of the most important steps I took that led me to where I am today.
The financial assistance I received from January 2018 until April 2020, not only helped me afford to achieve my goal of attaining an advanced degree, it also gave my wife, Shana, the opportunity to go back to school and finish her bachelor’s degree. Shana graduated from Southeastern Louisiana University one day before my graduation date, neither of which would have been possible without the support of Sentinels of Freedom.
While I could go on and on about the financial assistance that we received, that was only one aspect of the Sentinels program that made it so beneficial for me and my family. By far the most important part of the Sentinels of Freedom program is the quality of individuals I have met as a result. Beginning with the staff, at least the ones I have been lucky enough to interact with, every member of the Sentinels network has gone out of their way to make us feel like family. Mike, Samantha, Havilah, and Carol have each made such an impact on my life that there is really no way that I could ever properly repay them or even express how much their kind words and generous actions have propelled me forward during some dark times in my life.
In addition to the unbelievable individuals who work on behalf of the Sentinels; the network itself has provided me with an immeasurable amount of emotional and intellectual support. People like Dr. Derek Abbey, Ryan Rector, and Johnnie Yellock have become friends, mentors, and trusted confidants that I can rely on in times of stress or celebration.
Please know that this short letter could never come close to articulating how meaningful the Sentinels of Freedom program has been for my family. Instead, I pledge to use my experience, education, and network to continue paying this generosity forward, doing my part to make the world a better place to live in.
To everyone who reads this, thank you all for everything you have done for this wonderful program. Your work, time, energy, and money have not gone unappreciated or overlooked. People like you are inspiring, encouraging, and preparing your replacements to ensure a better future for everyone.
Sentinel Chris Lamy
Mr. Mike Conklin and Sentinels of Freedom,
Thank you for your radical support. It gave me the confidence to get my own apartment and make plans for grad school. Sam and Havilah were very supportive. I could call or email them anytime. For every question I had, they were quick to reassure me and help me make decisions.
I really appreciate how SOF fits easily into my school schedule. Reporting monthly bills was very fast and easy. Our semiannual check-ins were very easy. Everything was so easy, I was worried at first that I wasn’t doing enough for SOF to repay all the support. I asked Sam and Havilah what more I could do. They reassured me that by focusing on my health and school, I was doing exactly what SOF expected. They really helped me relax and make the most of my time as a Sentinel. While I was a Sentinel, I also got mentoring from a financial advisor. She helped me make a plan to set up my retirement account. I have since done that and am making good progress.
The very hardest part of my transition from Army to civilian was finding housing I could afford. Before SOF, I was couch surfing and moving state to state. I had moved 11 times in 3 years since finishing the Army. Nothing was working out. My pain and stress were getting worse. And I wasn’t staying anywhere long enough to get integrated into a VA hospital to get regular treatment. But I was determined to keep going until I found a place that worked for me.
When I applied to SOF, I was 36 and living with college students in an attic space without a bed and no access to a bathroom at night. I was in a state where I knew absolutely no one. I had a modest saving but I was too afraid to spend it on better housing because my health was really bad and I couldn’t find a job that didn’t make it worse. I had just started college and I was pushing myself really hard because I had really high standards for myself. I kept expecting my health would suddenly bounce back and that I needed to plow through in the meantime. But I was getting worse. My pain was unbearable. I was trying to hide it because I didn’t know anyone in this city very well. That was the lowest point in my life. I was really scared.
When I found out about SOF, I applied right away. The application process was easy and Samantha helped me with all my questions. Before I was even accepted, I had such a good feeling about the program that I got the confidence to look for my own apartment. I found a great family with a beautiful apartment attached to their house. They invited me for Sunday dinners and movie nights, and we are still good friends. Moving here was my turning point. A month after I moved in, I was accepted for SOF. I’ve been here two years now and it has been great.
I’m really excited to move to Seattle and start graduate school for art therapy. I’ve wanted to live in WA for a long time. I want to tell a short story about the first time I went to WA. In 2015, after the Army, I was invited to house-sit in a small city. Unfortunately, it was far from the VA and I was not able to find regular transportation. I found a college I liked and bought a car. But sadly, I was unfamiliar with the winding back roads and I totaled my car just 3 days after buying it. I’m so thankful I didn’t hurt anyone or myself. That was a big wake-up call. I left WA for MN where Veterans with a service-connected injury can use public transportation for free. And their light rail system has its very own stop right at the VA. There, I became a Sentinel and finished my undergrad. Now that I have made progress in my healing and saved some money, I’m ready to try WA again. But this time I am so much more prepared. I know I’m going to do great. I worked hard in undergrad and I’ve been accepted to a nice graduate school. With help from SOF, I was able to save enough money to sign a lease in Seattle and I’m moving on September 1st! I plan to use the public bus to get to the VA. I also want to buy a bicycle since Seattle has great bike lanes, and my school is only two miles from my house. I move in a month and I’ve already started learning the bike route to school. I’m excited about all the outdoors. I have a feeling WA will be my home for a long time. I feel like I’m truly going home for the first time since I left the Army. And I know Seattle will have lots of great opportunities for my Art Therapy career. Since I’m taking my graduate program there, I will get to do my internship there which will open up lots of doors for a job in Seattle. Seattle is known for very high rent rates. This education program offers a housing allowance while I am in school. This is a great opportunity to get my foot in the door and get a great foundation in the city.
When I got my own apartment two years ago, I thought my health would bounce back right away and I would be my normal self with lots of energy. But It didn’t happen that way. The last two years have been hard. If I could go back to two years ago and give myself advice I’d say ‘It’s not going to happen overnight. Healing is a slow process. Take it easy and give yourself time’. This is a marathon, not a sprint. It has been a long, gradual process. I’m still learning how to do life differently, how to adjust to my pain, and the way life affects me now. I’ve finally realized and accepted that I will never be the same as I was before. I really needed the last two years as Sentinel to take a time out, relax, and really listen to my body. I can’t imagine how I would have made it through this process without help from SOF. I am so much better than when I started.
I’m excited about my career in Art Therapy and my new life in Washington state. I hope I get the opportunity to attend a SOF event since I will be living on the West Coast. I look forward to meeting other Sentinels and hopefully Mike, Sam, and Havilah. Thank you for everything you do for Veterans and their families.
Salutations Sentinels of Freedom Staff and Donors,
On this occasion of my graduation from the University of Texas at El Paso, I would like to express my gratitude for the gracious support you have given me for the past two years while pursuing my education goals. On May 18th, 2019 I walked across the stage at UTEP in front of my friends and family earning a Master’s of Science degree in Intelligence and National Security Studies. This day marked the culmination of my educational endeavors. In 2013 upon leaving the Army I began pursuing a bachelor’s degree in international studies at the University of Saint Thomas in Houston Texas. In 2016 when I earned my bachelor’s degree, I struggled to find meaningful employment in my field eventually having to take work as a security guard in order to make ends meet. My transition from the military to the civilian workforce was made more difficult because the military experience didn’t directly translate to the international affairs field in which I desired to work in. Hoping to make myself more employable I decided to pursue a master’s degree. Around the same time, a veteran former classmate of mine told me about sentinels of freedom, a chance conversation that would immensely change my life for the better.
Throughout the course of my graduate program, SOF helped my family both financially and emotionally as well. I can’t say enough about how comforting it is knowing that you have such a stellar group of individuals in your corner as the counselors and staff at sentinels of freedom. I will forever be grateful for their understanding when I had to take an extra semester to complete my degree because my wife became ill with tuberculosis. This extra time enabled me to reduce my course load so that I could focus on supporting my wife through her illness. This is just a small example of the support Sentinels of Freedom provided my family. Perhaps the most impactful contribution made to me by Sentinels was the monthly housing stipend. This enabled me to focus 100% on my graduate program without having to experience the financial strains that I experienced during my undergrad years. This stipend was especially helpful when my wife was unable to work due to her illness.
Now that I have graduated, I hope to work in the private sector for a year while I pursue work in the intelligence community of the federal government. This will enable me to pursue my desire of continuing to serve my country. I would like to express my sincerest gratitude to Sentinels of Freedom and the donors who have supported my education and the education of other disabled veterans like me. Thank you for the confidence you have placed in us and for helping us to achieve our educational goals.
With Respect and Gratitude,
Durrell Marquez Green
I would like to begin by saying “Thank you” for giving me the opportunity to be a part of such a great organization, you all have been amazing. The support you all have given not only me but as well as my family is a blessing. Of course, the financial subsidy of this program is great, but just knowing the fact that if I or my family needed anything, my case manager or a member was just a phone call away. I am truly grateful for that and grateful to now say I am a SOF alumnus.
My time with SOF seemed to have flown by so fast, but I will say I really appreciated how smooth of a process it was from beginning to end. I also appreciated my case manager for constantly checking in on me just to make sure all was well and remind me that she was always available for any resources or questions I may have. That was helpful since I was just transitioning from active duty to civilian, it gave me some peace of mind in case I had questions that I had forgotten to ask prior to retiring.
As far as my plans now that I have graduated, I am currently looking for employment in hopes to be starting this journey soon in this new career path I have chosen. I will also be taking some certification courses to beef up my resume and at some point in the next 6 -12 months, I plan on pursuing my Master’s degree in Cybersecurity. Thank you again for all the support through my transition and educational journey.
Alfredo F. Gaitan Jr
I will say it is hard to leave the military. There is so much known about career progression and an understanding of what is expected of you. There is a group of like-minded men and women that work to achieve the goals of the Department of Defense. We are all kind of on the same page. But when you leave, especially under medical pretenses, that feeling of “the same page” fades quite quickly which was daunting to me. I found the months of out-processing through soldier’s support center’s to feel more like a regular day in the military and less like I was close to leaving. But in the final days, as I signed out and there was no ceremony of any kind other than saying goodbye to my peers, I felt a rush of unease. Stepping into a world where you create your own adventure is different than the world of the military and getting used to that was going to take time. Luckily after my first semester at school, I found the sentinels of freedom through fellow veterans on Duke’s campus. Being connected with SOF and subsequently receiving the scholarship as well as the resources they offered changed my view of the disconnectedness quite rapidly. I was connected with some of the world-class staff who made me feel welcome and let me know that I’m not the only one in my position of medical retirement and that there are others just like me all of which are under the SOF umbrella. The meeting with the staff and the conversation with the leadership made me feel welcome and brought me to what I believe was the same page as other medically retired veterans seeking higher education. It also is refreshing that there was ample review of what I was doing through my time at Duke University. Being required to fill out information of how I am doing both emotionally, physically, medically, and financially was exactly what I needed to take a moment out of the busy school schedule and think about how I am doing as a person especially one that faces constant medical issues. Every time I sat down and spoke with Carol and the staff at SOF I was reminded that there are great people out there thinking of me and my well-being.
Now that I have graduated, I have taken a senior leadership position at a startup company working to solve the environmental damages caused by toxic wastewaters. It is a role that requires my training and leadership as well as decision making. I met the founder of the company when I was taking business classes and I interned with the company when they were very early stage. Thanks to SOF, I was able to receive the scholarship while I was working as an unpaid intern. This level of financial support allowed me to take a chance and work for a company that needed help to get off the ground. I couldn’t have done that without SOF and it paid off! Now I am going to be one of the major decision-makers to see the company make a real impact in the world. I cannot express how happy that made me and the sense of fulfillment I get from being afforded the opportunity to take such a risk and to have a whole organization like SOF support me on that endeavor.
Dear Staff and Supporters of Sentinels of Freedom,
As I have recently completed my Ph.D. as a Sentinel Scholar, I wanted to take this opportunity to express my gratitude for all of your support throughout my academic journey. Your support has directly influenced my personal success at the University of San Diego but has also had a ripple effect beyond the classroom. Your backing has resulted in my ability to also pursue and attain professional success. As a Sentinel Scholar, I attained my desired post-doctoral job prior to finishing my degree. This job not only allows me to succeed as a professional in the area I love but also has an enormous impact on the community that we care for, the military community. Additionally, your care and guidance along the path have relieved much of the strain on my wife and me during a very stressful period. This has allowed her to focus more fully on her professional life. As a result, our marriage remains healthy, even stronger.
It goes without saying that the financial support provided by SOF has directly benefited my family. The funding I received allowed me to finish my education without taking on debt. Since I had utilized my G.I. Bill attaining my undergraduate and master’s degree, SOF financial support addressed the gap that would usually be covered by military benefits. The intangible support provided by SOF was just as significant as the financial support. Unlike military benefits, I felt like SOF actually cared for me personally and I had additional people on my team encouraging me to be as successful as possible. When I had a question, concern, or request, Carol and others were always there to answer my questions, seek out additional resources, or just offer a word of encouragement. That type of support does not come with a price tag.
As a Sentinel Alumnus, I commit to being an ambassador that SOF will hold in high regard. I believe that it is vital that our veteran community strive to continue to serve our nation beyond military service. I will strive to continue to have a positive impact on the community while also working with other veterans to encourage them to invest in their own spheres of influence in a positive way. This will include expressing the value of Sentinels of Freedom.
Thank you for your support and investment in my success!
Derek Abbey, Ph.D.
Dear Sentinels Program Administrators and Sponsors,
I am extremely blessed and grateful that I gained the support of SOF during my educational journey. The subsidy payments allowed my educational progress to be uninterrupted by a 40-hour workweek and really let me excel in my studies. I graduated with a 3.97 cumulate GPA for my degree and this was explicitly possible due to the SOF Bridge for Education program. While on this program and enrolled in full-time school, I was able to concentrate on my homework, papers, and exams without the worry of making ends meet for my family. Another aspect extremely close and important to me is my time I spend serving my church and volunteering in the community. The SOF program also allowed me to continue to lead my small group, serve the community once a month, lead our church’s youth group and continue to volunteer as my church’s lead audio engineer twice a week.
During these unprecedented times of COVID-19, the SOF program also allowed me the freedom to be home for my children during their hybrid learning schedules. If I did not receive support from SOF, my children would be behind in school as I would not be available to help them through their studies due to the need to work to support my family.
The most difficult aspect in transitioning from active duty military to civilian life are financial challenges and mental challenges. Having served in the military for almost 10 years, I had a great routine and grasp on my daily duties. When I separated, I felt like I had little support although I was prepared for this new journey SOF’s moral support and availability of mentors are great assets to the SOF Bridge for Education Program. When everything in life seems new and different, SOF stepped in, even just being a phone call or email away, I knew I had the support that understood the position I was in and could guide me through stressful times.
Now that I have graduated with a degree in Business Administration, I will continue to invest in residential and business rental properties. What I have learned through my degree will help me manage my properties, keep accurate accounts of the finances, and hopefully gain financial independence through smart investing, efficient management, and keeping that business mindset that school has taught me. I am blessed to have a self-paced and light work schedule to continue to be home for my children, church, and neighbors when a need arises.
Through the SOF program, I have learned that I can also support people through their journey using the skills I know or can learn. SOF is a great asset and helps disabled veterans reach their educational goals. I’ve learned that education is very important but having outside support is equally important. I am learning that spending time with my family and helping friends is important but also giving back to others using what I have learned through my educational and spiritual journey will pay it forward just as SOF has paid it forward to me.
SOF helped me through my final semester at UNC School of the Arts. I was maintaining a mortgage in Shelby, NC while paying rent two hours away in Winston-Salem. Travel and living expenses were piling up and making it more and more difficult to stay afloat, financially. The housing stipend that SOF afforded me each month allowed me to make ends meet and start rebuilding the family’s financial safety net. The semester that I received support from SOF was, by far, the least stress-inducing semester of the four years that I attended UNCSA.
It’s hard to know what the future holds in these uncertain times. The state of the film industry has changed greatly with the COVID crisis. All productions came to a grinding halt with the rest of the economy. It is unfortunate that this came right at my transition into the profession. The $1000 graduation grant will help immensely in this transition.
I’ve been given an opportunity to attend a Master’s program at the Veteran’s International Institute of Orthotics & Prosthetics in Tampa, Florida. I’m currently looking into scholarships and student loans to attend in January 2021. I feel like I have a lot to offer this profession and community, as I’ve been a part of it since losing my leg in 2011. I’ve been on the receiving end of some world-class care and now I feel like I can position myself to offer care of the same caliber. It’s a great opportunity to give back to Veterans and amputees alike.
When my wife and I made the decision to attend law school we knew that it was going to be a long journey and it would not be easy. We were both going to be in school full time, raising two kids, and unable to work due to our schedules. But we decided that pursuing our dreams would provide a better life for our family and the struggling would be worth it in the end. We thought we had a good understanding of what we were facing—boy was we wrong—there was nothing to prepare us for the level of stress we were undertaking.
After my first year in law school, we realized that this was A LOT. Stress levels for both of us went through the roof. We barely had time to get all of our school work done much less spend time as a family. Finances were becoming more difficult because the credit cards were getting maxed out. But we knew we had to keep pushing and figure things out. That was our only option. Luckily, I found out about Sentinels of Freedom, and the scholarship and numerous benefits that they had to offer. I’ll never forget the day that I got the email congratulating me for being accepted as a Sentinel. We were all in the backyard visiting with family while the kids ran around. As soon as I read the email I jumped out of my seat with excitement. Told my wife the amazing news, and instantly there was a relief that filled us both. We knew that this meant we were getting a living stipend, which was going to help pay our rent for the rest of our time in Law School. But we weren’t really expecting all of the other great things that Sentinels of Freedom Offered.
Don’t get me wrong the scholarship is great and significantly helped out with our financial burden. But honestly, it’s one of the least valuable things that Sentinels of Freedom Offers. The most valuable thing to me was my mentor Carol. She immediately became like a family member. Wanting to know how we were doing, anything new in our lives, anything she could do to help. Yes we had that from other family members, but they didn’t really understand the support we needed or how to give it. Carol did. I could call her or text her whenever. She became invested in me. She became invested in my family. Yes, she wanted to know what was going on, but she genuinely cared about me. I was struggling with severe PTSD and I still am. But she guided me through some obstacles. Just knowing that she was there for me if I needed her made a big difference.
I’m not saying she acted as my psychological counselor, but she did more than they could have. She was genuine. And genuine really matters when you are down in the gutter. I wanted to make her happy, proud, confident in my future. Because she cared, even though we have never met in person. Which one day will happen. She was able to learn about me, my needs, my interest, my desires. She then used this information to connect me with people that had been successful in those things so that I could learn from them. She never glossed over anything either, she wanted to know how the connection went, and I could tell that she wanted to know that because if it wasn’t a good fit she was going to connect me with someone else.
There are other people in the organization that also communicated with me and bent over backward to help me. Sam got me information that I needed so my wife and I could buy some land and start building a house. That’s right, struggling through law school—broke— before graduating buying land and building a house so that we have a home when we leave school. That’s an amazing turnaround. And it would not have been possible without the Sentinels of Freedom. The help they provided me was not just temporary, nor were the results of that help. They have made a positive impact on my life that will last forever. I am beyond proud to be a Sentinel, I probably wear my shirts too much, but I let everyone know about this organization. As a veteran, and as a person, it is the organization that I am most proud to be a part of.
There is no way that we can ever think of Sentinels of Freedom, Carol, Sam, and everyone else for the impact they made on our lives. But we do plan to become successful and give back to this organization so that they may continue helping others the way they helped us. I don’t have a single complaint about the organization, the people, or the program. Which says a lot because I typically can find something to complain about, lol. Sentinels of Freedom has not only helped me get through Law School, open my own firm—so that I can give back to the community, buy land, build a house, but most importantly has helped me to get somewhat back to normal. Through their help, I was able to deal with some of my own issues and be the best husband and father that I could be.
One the hardest things about the Sentinels of Freedom is trying to find the proper word to describe the impact they have had on my life. So please bear with me while I attempt to do my best and to truly show how important they were to my journey and success. When I got out of the military, they were plenty of trial and error, difficulties adapting, and just about anything else you can think of. Thankfully one of the things that got me on track was my wife and the birth of my son halfway through my degree, this is what initially set my life on track to pursue nursing school. At this time, I also talked my wife into going into nursing school because what she was pursuing was not looking as promising as it had in the past, this meant we would both be in an extremely difficult degree program and also have a new baby to worry about. I had my retirement from my medical discharge but it was still next to impossible to support a family on that pay but there was no way I could ask my wife to work, go to school and take care of the baby. So I told her not to work and to focus on school and our family, this is something that I knew would drain our savings and possibly create turbulence down the road but I knew it was worth the chance so that we could both succeeded. To be honest I was falling apart and absolutely freaking out. My wife then found the Sentinels of Freedom and I thought that there was no possible way this was real and that I would be selected if it did turn out to be an actual organization. I am sure Carol can tell you that one of our first calls consisted of me asking various questions about the legitimacy of their organization and it wasn’t in an effort to be rude or offensive, I just didn’t think there was an organization that would do so much for veterans and their families in the way the SoF did for mine. Honestly, I had become accustomed to people taking advantage of veterans and felt that we were more likely to be discarded once we traded our uniform for jeans. But with Sof, there were no gimmicks, just a group of people that bent over backward for veterans and truly care about our transition. They are one of the greatest groups of people I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. Once I was accepted into the SoF, I found out that they were going to pay my mortgage while I was in school and this was pretty much one of those moments where you can’t believe it. This lifted the stress off of me and my wife and allowed us to go through nursing school without having to work, which was pivotal to our success. Most importantly it relieved a lot of pressure on Kacy and me financially, saving our marriage and allowing us to really focus on each other.
As we all know, life comes at you full speed and loves the opportunity to knock you down when it can. Sometimes it seemed like it never stopped but one of the most valuable things that I was given at SoF was someone to talk to. Some days I felt so overwhelmed, tired, and beaten down, but I knew I could call Carol and I can not tell you how many times she has helped me out in countless aspects f my transition. Throughout this, I was able to learn a lot about myself and who I was after my service and this is important because a lot of the time, we all may struggle to get a grasp on things when we get out. Sentinels of Freedom helped me realize what I am capable of outside of the military, that as veterans we are strong and an absolute force when we set our minds to something.
Just like a lot of veterans, I struggled a lot when I got out and there were times that I thought I would live a short and meaningless life, that my purpose had been served and now I was just going through the motions. But I can not stress how vital it was to have supportive people there to pick me up and give me a kick in the rear, Sof is one of those people and it is really hard to put into words what this has all done for my family and me. If it sounds like I am rambling on it is because I can’t find a way to thank you all enough for everything you have done. With your help, I was able to graduate nursing school with a G.P.A of 3.73 which qualified me as a Magna Cum Laude. More so, I was accepted into the only recognized nursing honor society, Sigma Theta Tau. This is only awarded to the top third of the class and is a lifelong honor and achievement. So, to say it for the hundredth time, thank you so very much. You all helped save my marriage and were a critical part of my success, I will never be able to repay you all for what you have done.
Sentinels of Freedom Graduation Grant Reflection
I want to first say thank you to all that assisted and helped me with the encouragement and the kind words. When I entered the program I had just given birth to my daughter on June 27th of 2016, you offered the commitment of assisting me in my housing and education, I was truly honored to accept the invitation to be an ambassador of Sentinels of Freedom (SOF). The expectation of this non-profit organization that I did not expect was that there was a community of supporters for me being an “Army Combat Veteran” and a single mother to my Son and Daughter, was a challenge but without SOF having my Back, I don’t think I would have accomplished so much.
While the time I held the title and position of being an ambassador of SOF, I had experienced some difficulties for example transitioning from two (2) minute drive to 45 to sometimes 1-hour drive to Holy Names University, I knew that they were behind me and cheering me along the way, with the annual check-ins that I spent talking to Carol Prell and other SOF staff ensured me that I was doing something that would be influential to other veteran students who were pursuing their education. My future plans now that I graduated from Holy Names University with a Bachelors degree in Sociology with an emphasis on “Human Services” is applied to the graduate program at Clark Atlanta University and obtain a Master’s degree under the school of “Social Work” with, a Sociology degree with a concentration of “Families and Children” to ultimately be offered a job position with the Department of Veteran Affairs as a Hud-Vash, employee.
What I learned about myself while being in the SOF program was that with resilience, patience, and dedication, positivity, optimistic, that my Heart will beat patriotism, I made it. My journey of being part of SOF had me endure the growing pains of being an adult student who had a humbled start at Los Medanos College in Pittsburg, California, allowing me to transfer to Holy Names University in Oakland, California to prospectively become a student at a Historic Black College University (HBCU), in closing allowing me to say “I can do and will do, anything is possible with a community of believer’s and supporters”. As SOF, has been there for me going back to August 2016 to June 2020.
Thank you all!
The two years of graduate studies were incredibly challenging; I cannot imagine attending graduate school if I had to endure, on top of the mentally demanding course work of the degree plan, the financial challenges many have to face while pursuing an advanced degree. Samantha’s ongoing support and prompt response were without a doubt most beneficial while enrolled in the master’s program. She made the transition back into the academic world seamless.
The plan was to move to the D.C. area with hopes of becoming a policy analyst at the federal level. Samantha connected me with several key players in the policy arena in D.C. However, I pursued a federal position in Arizona and still making a significant impact at the federal level. It has almost been a year since leaving Colorado, and I have been flourishing professionally as well as personally since my relocation. I am currently in the process of purchasing my second home.
I look forward to meeting the new classes of Sentinels and assist them the best way I can!
Dear Sentinels of Freedom,
I would like to take this opportunity to write your organization a letter of gratitude and appreciation for the assistance I received during my degree program.
Just before I started my graduate program at California State University Los Angeles, I lost my job due to company cutbacks. I was workings as a project manager, supervising contractors on military bases. Lacking the education to qualify for other jobs, I needed to return to school to pursue a meaningful career. I also wanted to help other Veterans and decided counseling would be my calling. I was accepted for a graduate degree program in counseling at California State University Los Angeles. I needed to attend full-time in order to start working as soon as possible but this also caused a financial burden on my marriage.
The loss of income required my wife who is a school teacher, to fully support our household financially. This also required her to put off paying her student loans and debt. Additionally, I was required to pay child support and alimony from my previous marriage. These commitments made our lives very stressful and I felt anxiety almost every day not being able to support my family.
A quarter way through my program, I was informed that the Sentinels of Freedom might be able to provide financial assistance while I was attending school. I applied for your program and was awarded a housing scholarship. This was like winning the lottery and I couldn’t believe that I was selected. The day I received that phone call, relieved all my stress and anxiety.
The scholarship allowed our family to have a life once again and manage our debt. The scholarship also reduced the financial tension in the household and enabled me to complete my degree program full-time. This also allowed me to complete my internship hours that required 20 hours a week, which would have not been possible if I had to get a part-time job. I completed my internship at the Long Beach VA assisting veterans start new careers and identify educational goals.
After I completed my degree in 2019, I applied for a job at the VA. I am proud to say that I work for the Department of Veterans Affairs as a Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor and assist other veterans in their journey transitioning from the military back into the community.
I would like to thank your organization once again for all the support and assistance that was provided to my family. Without the support, I don’t believe I could have accomplished my educational goals and supported my family during those difficult years. I would be honored to be an ambassador or mentor for future Sentinels.
“They provide a peace of mind and just a phone call away from assisting me with anything I may encounter along my process.”
Staff Sergeant US Army, BA International Studies
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he application is not difficult but it may
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he application is not difficult but it may
take some time, be sure to start early!