From Combat to Classroom, 9/8/2011
A new generation of student veterans enrolls
Sit next to Brendan Poelaert in a UNH sociology class, and you might not notice much to separate him from other students. Sure, he’s a little taller than most, with rusty red hair, calming blue eyes, and a lean but rugged build. Possibly an athlete. Definitely a Red Sox fan.
He studies hard, hangs out with friends, and worries about his bills.
Over time, though, you might pick out two faint scars on the right side of his neck, each about the size of a pea. And then others, up and down his right arm. And a few more on his right leg, too.
“It got me here and here and here, and right here. See that that little mark?” Poelaert says, pointing to a pale indent in the skin below his right ear. “That one went right through and came out the back of my neck. How it missed my spine, I have no idea.”
Ball bearings do horrible, unpredictable things when they slam into a body with explosive power.
At least eight of the steel balls hit Poelaert when a suicide bomber blew himself up in Iraq, where Poelaert, a Marine corporal, was guarding an Iraqi police recruiting station. Flapoor, the military police dog that Poelaert trained and depended on, was also struck, and the blast left both of them bleeding profusely, dazed, and gravely injured—but alive.
Some 40 others standing all around Poelaert were killed, including his best friend, Marine Sgt. Adam Cann, and Cann’s dog.
“He pretty much died right in my arms,” Poelaert says of Cann, his words trailing off into the quiet of a Stoke Hall student lounge.
Today, Poelaert is working on a dual major in sociology and justice studies and plans to graduate in May. It’s a remarkable achievement, especially considering that he is still recovering from war wounds that left him with migraines, frequent bloody noses, and sleep problems long after the blast in 2006.