By Bob Fowler
Roane State staff writer
CROSSVILLE, Tenn. – His life shattered by war, this veteran enrolled in Roane State Community College to send a message to young people.
“I want to show my five kids no matter how old you are or your circumstances, you can still go to college and better yourself,” former Army Sgt. Chris Walters said.
Walters, 46, enlisted in the Army right after graduating from Stratford High School in Nashville. He repeatedly fought for his country; in the first Operation Desert Storm, then Iraq, then Afghanistan. In Afghanistan, he was attached to a special forces group; soldiers at the spear tip of combat.
He and three other GIs were in a Humvee on the outskirts of Kabul, Afghanistan on Feb. 26, 2005, when an improvised explosive device detonated under the vehicle.
Two soldiers were killed, and Walters and the other surviving soldier sustained life-threatening injuries.
Walters said the explosion “messed up my back and neck,” along with numerous other injuries. He also sustained traumatic brain injuries and is almost deaf in his right ear.
Shrapnel remains embedded in an arm and hip. He also wears leg braces because his knees were damaged from too many parachute jumps.
Walters was diagnosed with chronic and debilitating Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome and was told he could never work again. For years, he said he battled depression and drank heavily. He said he’s lucky if he can get three hours of sleep, and nightmares come frequently.
Then, there are the “triggers” – a tire blowing out, fireworks – that instantly bring back the horrors of war. Still, he calls his military service “just a job. I wish I could do it again.”
Walters credits his wife of 12 years – Angela – a Roane State student studying to be a nurse, for inspiring him to go to Roane State. “She’s been with me through it all,” he said of his post-combat ordeals.
“She looked at me one day and said, ‘Why don’t you go back to school?’”
Walters said he had taken some college courses while he was in the military, and he’s finished his first year of studies at Roane State. He kept a 4.0 grade point average his first semester. His spring semester was a “little tricky,” Walters said, but he’s still pulling down good grades.
“My 16-year-old looked at me and asked if his mom did all the work,” he said. Between him and his wife, Walters said they have five children, ranging in age from 4 to 20.
“The children are impressed with my GPA, and I’m encouraging them to enroll at Roane State,” he said. As for himself, Walters said he plans to return to Roane State’s Cumberland County campus next fall and obtain his associate’s degree.
“I’m extremely pleased with my instructors,” the Crossville resident said. “They’re outstanding. They offer support and help. They are on top of it.”
Walters is uncertain whether he’ll pursue a bachelor’s degree after he graduates from Roane State next spring.
He’s taking life one day at a time.
Remember, eligible adults can now attend Roane State tuition-free with the new Reconnect grant. Learn more at roanestate.edu/reconnect. For more information about veterans services at Roane State, visit roanestate.edu/veterans.