‘Sentinels of Freedom’ Scholarships Help Wounded Veterans
By Sharon Foster
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 3, 2008 Thanks to a recommendation from the Army Wounded Warrior Program at Fort Riley, Kan., retired Army Sgt. Victor Thibeault of San Ramon, Calif., will study general education with the help of a “Sentinels of Freedom” scholarship that also benefits his family.
“The Sentinels of Freedom scholarship has helped me to secure gainful employment [and] a rent-free living space and a minivan for my family, not to mention the unwavering support of the local community,” Thibeault said.
The Sentinels of Freedom Scholarship Foundation provides four-year “life scholarships” to help severely wounded veterans become self-sufficient.
Scholarship recipients receive assistance with rent-free housing adapted for physical needs, new furniture and other household supplies, career-placement and training, new adaptive vehicles based upon need, educational opportunities, and financial and personal mentorship. To date, the program has awarded 31 scholarships, with 20 more in the pipeline.
Mike Conklin of Danville, Calif., the father of three Army Rangers, started the Sentinels of Freedom Scholarship Foundation. Conklin said he was inspired to reach out to severely injured veterans after one of his sons was wounded in Iraq in 2003.
“Impressed by the level of care my son received in military hospitals and wanting to do something tangible to support U.S. troops, I created the nonprofit Sentinels of Freedom Scholarship Foundation,” Conklin said. “The four-year program is meant for veterans with severe service-related injuries who have the aptitude, attitude and drive to become independent and successful members of society.”
Scholarship recipients are called ‘Sentinels’ in honor of their sacrifice and commitment to guarding America's freedoms, Conklin added.
While in Afghanistan in 2003, Thibeault was injured when he was ambushed driving through a crowded market place. A Taliban militant threw a grenade through the driver’s side of his vehicle, and it landed under his partner’s seat.
“I grabbed it and put it in the center console of the vehicle, mitigating the effects of the blast,” Thibeault said. “As a result of the blast, I suffered multiple shrapnel injuries and lost all the fingers on my left hand, except my pinky. I suffered damage to a large portion of my left side and leg.”
For his wounds and for saving his fellow soldier’s life, Thibeault received the Purple Heart and a Silver Star. Because of his heroism, he also was nominated to receive this scholarship.
“The scholarship has helped enforce a seamless transition from active duty to the civilian work force through a committed community dedicated to the welfare of severely disabled veterans,” Thibeault said.
Thibeault is a senior support services technician for the San Ramon Valley Fire Protection District. Along with his expecting wife, Maleney, and 2-year-old daughter, Delilah, he moved from Kansas to California to accept the scholarship and start working.
Any member of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps or Coast Guard who suffered severe injuries - amputation, blindness, deafness, paraplegia or severe burns, for example - in the line of duty since Sept. 11, 2001, can apply for the scholarship. Qualified candidates also must have “the skills, experience and attitude that employers look for” in filling available positions and must successfully complete all interview processes, Conklin said. Once they become Sentinels, he added, they’ll receive support from a variety of sources.
“Sentinels succeed because whole communities come forward to help,” he said. “Local businesses and individuals not only give money, but also time, goods and services, housing and transportation.”
“This has created a nearly stress-free environment where I can focus on my life, education and family goals,” Thibeault said. “The Sentinels of Freedom have exceeded my expectations of what a nonprofit veteran service organization can do and be.”