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USO, Wyakin Warrior Foundation Help Recovering Air Force Vet Blaze Path to New Career

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

By Joseph Andrew Lee  

The road can be difficult to navigate for medically retired veterans. They often struggle with questions like “What do I want to do now?” Or, more often, “What can I do now?” 

This is where the Wyakin Warrior Foundation – in collaboration with the USO – steps in to help students like Kyley Trausch, a 33-year-old Air Force veteran, single mother and senior at Boise State University.

“This program is helping out the wounded, ill and injured veterans who are actively motivated to live life beyond their injuries and to bring their talents to their communities, rather than becoming passive victims to their circumstances,” she said. 

Trausch is no stranger to adversity. A native of Edgerton, Ohio, she knew early on she wanted to serve. Her father was in the Army during Vietnam, and all three of her brothers are currently serving in the Air Force. However, she was medically discharged from the military in 2002 due to heart problems exacerbated by military service.  

After her medical discharge, she underwent surgery to implant a pacemaker, but the operation perforated her heart. She says the resulting daily chest pain was so severe she could no longer work as a dental hygenist.

So she went back to school.

She started at Boise State in 2008, her heart condition and duties as a single mom restricted her to going part time. There was little on campus keeping her interest.

“It was kind of a struggle to make friends on campus because I was a non-traditional student, about 10 years older than the average student,” she said. “I felt foreign there.”

Trausch did well academically, but had difficulty networking and enjoying the social aspect of being in college.

In January 2012, she was inducted into the Wyakin Warrior Foundation, and her involvement in both school the community expanded exponentially.

The Wyakin Warrior Foundation, with help from the USO, provides a four-year scholarship (including room, board, books, tutoring and living expenses) to students attending six participating colleges and universities.

The foundation is dedicated to successful education, professional development and job placement, through a robust, multi-layered mentoring program. Wyakin Warriors attend monthly professional development seminars conducted by business leaders, public officials and employment experts and gain assistance in securing gainful employment after graduation.

“It’s really met a need in the community that wasn’t there before, and I wish every veteran had the opportunity to be a part of a program as well-rounded and as supportive as Wyakin is,” she said.

She attends monthly Wyakin events and professional development seminars, which she says helped her to focus in on what she wanted to do. She was even able to find an internship through the program. 

Since Trausch is studying social work, she took an internship at a Department of Veterans Affairs Vet Center, providing readjustment counseling to combat vets. 

“I chose social work because it looks at all the aspects and systems in place that affect people, and I like to look at a person — in part — as a product of their environment as much as anything else,” she said. “The medical field is very deficit focused — identifying ‘what’s wrong’ with someone — while social work can be much more focused on the positive things people can do to modify perspective.”

As someone who had her career aspirations cut short by illness and injury, Trausch feels she can empathize with her fellow Wyakins and other service members who were medically forced to leave the service.

“Everyone [in the program] kind of has a similar story, in that we were all on active duty and something happened so that we were no longer able to serve,” she said. “Most of us had aspirations of retirement from military service, and a lot of us felt cut short of our career plan.”

According to Trausch, each Wyakin Warrior is paired with several mentors to help with everything from tutoring to networking. When the whole group gets together with their families, it creates a community of support.

“Having no family here where I’m going to school, it’s just nice to have that extra safety net,” she said. 

Trausch expects to graduate this summer, and is applying to graduate school to get her masters in social work with the goal to become a licensed clinical social worker. 

“The Wyakin Warrior Foundation added another layer of support to help give me the confidence to succeed,” she said. “I don’t think I would be where I’m at now had I not been in the program. I never could have had this sort of access to networking and support from the community without them.”

Photo caption: Kyley Trausch is an Air Force veteran and a student at Boise State University.  

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