In 2005, Mark Olson received orders for deployment to Iraq. Two weeks before Thanksgiving, he left for Kuwait.
Olson spent his time in Iraq seeking improvised explosive devices – or IEDs. Olson compares looking for bombs to looking for a needle inside a stack of needles, because everything looks exactly the same. Explosions were an everyday occurrence, ultimately leading to Olson’s partial hearing loss.
Olson was discharged from the army in March 2008 and returned home to his hometown of Clarkston, Wash. But coming back from Iraq turned out to be different than what he expected.
“It’s like you hit pause for a year, but the rest of the world didn’t,” says Olson. “You come back and nobody knows [what happened], and you don’t want to tell them. Being a disabled veteran, you have to learn how to relive life."
Though he struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder, partial hearing loss and a compressed disc in his back, Olson began taking steps to return to a normal life. He began taking classes at Lewis-Clark State College and transferred in July 2010 to the University of Idaho, where he was offered assistance through the Operation Education Scholarship Program.
The Operation Education Scholarship Program was created in 2006 to help disabled veterans return to school and adjust to civilian life. The program offers customized and comprehensive academic, social and financial support to disabled veterans and/or their spouses. Recipients of the scholarship receive assistance with tuition, fees, books and living expenses. They also receive support for on-campus housing and transportation, medical care, tutoring, job placement, and more.
“Operation Education has single-handedly saved me,” says Olson. “I literally was down to the last $12 in the bank; I couldn’t buy books. Operation Education gave me some money to put on my Vandal Card to buy books. It was the helping hand I needed.”