By Travis Fugate
CSU Monterey Bay student
Army Veteran of the Iraq War
I was able to see the world around me for most of my life.
At the age of most students at CSU Monterey Bay, I was driving cars and playing video games. I had an experience of life that was similar to the one they know. Then I made the fateful decision to serve in the Kentucky National Guard. I expected that decision to change my life, but I had no idea how different things would become.
An ethos that defines the military experience is success through training. A person is almost infinitely capable if they commit to train. I believe this and face every day with the determination to learn.
This determination served me well as a soldier stateside and in Iraq. Something often forgotten in discussions about the military is the level of responsibility entrusted to young people. Soldiers who are still teenagers are making critical decisions in the field. Training is key to making the right choice in the heat of the moment.
The roadside bomb that claimed my sight and injured my brain did not shake that training ethos. I approached losing my vision as a new training challenge. I strove to be the best patient at the Hines Blind Center. Then I strove to be the most capable blind person in my community.
I’m not sure when the realization hit, but at some point I came to recognize that this was not a special form of training — blindness was permanent. This only strengthened my resolve to gain and maintain momentum in my new life. A new-found knowledge of the technology and capabilities accessible to blind people became a passion.
With the support of Sentinels of Freedom, I originally went to D.C. to seek educational opportunities in Computer Science. In exploring their local campuses, I didn’t find a receptive environment for my special needs.
I chose California because this state is a focal point for computer technology. A 2009 tour of CSUMB confirmed that choice. I felt more welcome at CSUMB than at any other campus. I started at Monterey Peninsula College in January 2010 and transferred to CSUMB this fall. Every interaction with students, faculty, staff and administrators at both campuses confirmed that the decision to move to Monterey was the right one.
Perhaps the hardest barrier to overcome as a blind person is the social one. At CSUMB, there is a continual willingness by people to help when needed or just to be there to talk. Student Disability Resources and the veterans’ support team have been particularly amazing.
I aspire to graduate in 2014 with Mr. Fess, my wildly popular service dog, by my side. I have no idea what new changes await me in life, but I feel my time as a soldier and an education at CSUMB gives me the training I need to take on any challenge and seize any opportunity.