From the Middle East to the Western Frontier
Disabled Veteran Transformed by Special U-Idaho Scholarship
By Karen Hunt
As a child, Mathew Pickar spent hours drawing pictures of his uncle jumping out of military planes during Desert Storm and dreamed of the day that he, too, could join the military. He spent many hours running through the woods with his friends carrying stick guns and dodging imaginary fire from the enemy.
“I’ve always wanted to go into the military,” says Pickar, a natural resources student at the University.
Days after graduating from Hoquiam High School in Washington, he fulfilled his dream. He joined the Army and left for basic training and infantryman school at Fort Benning, Ga.
Next, he was stationed with the 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum, New York. But like most soldiers, staying on American soil was not enough. He wanted to see action. He was given the chance when he received deployment orders. Pickar served six months in Afghanistan.
“People in Afghanistan had never seen Americans before,” says Pickar. “They liked us. But their living conditions were a lot different than what we were used to. The Afghans’ houses didn’t have indoor plumbing or glass on the windows.”
Pickar finished his tour, returned to the states and was reassigned to Fort Hood, Texas and went through sniper school. Less than a year later, he was sent to Iraq.
There, he was a sniper team leader. But the stresses of war eventually took their toll, and he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Upon his arrival back to the states, he spent time in Fort Hood and then was reassigned again to Fort Carson, Colo., before becoming medically retired.
“I personally wanted to stay over there,” says Pickar. “It was hard to adjust back to a normal way of life.”
Pickar decided to go back to school. He attended a community college on the Washington coast and earned an associate’s degree.
“For me, attending a community college before a university was a great stepping stone and helped me adjust to life as a student,” he says. “After finishing my associates degree, I knew I wanted to experience life in a university setting.”
Pickar chose the University of Idaho. He fell in love with the natural resources program and tuition was affordable.
“While taking a field studies course here at the University of Idaho, the trip really opened my eyes to the beauty of the National Park system. I decided I wanted to work as a park ranger to protect these awesome sites.”
While talking to Dan Button, veteran’s adviser at the university, he learned about Operation Education. His PTSD qualified him for the scholarship program, which alleviated a lot of stress from the burden of every day expenses.
“Besides the upfront cost of school, Operation Education provided me with extra money for rent, books and other bills,” says Pickar.
Pickar is thankful for the scholarship program that allows him to focus on school.
“I think this program and the way it is set up is a wonderful additional to the University community,” says Pickar. “It takes the stress out of dealing with a disability and trying to go to school while maintaining financial obligations.”