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ODU Honoring Wounded Warriors at Home Football Games This Season

Old Dominion University will again honor a wounded warrior at the start of its next home football game against William and Mary Saturday afternoon, Sept. 18, at Foreman Field at S.B. Ballard Stadium.

Brent McKeag, a recent ODU graduate who was injured by a roadside bomb in Iraq six years ago, will serve as honorary captain at the game, as he joins the officials and team captains at midfield for the coin toss.

The university is honoring wounded warriors at each of its home games this season, according to Dick Whalen, ODU's director of military affairs. At the Monarchs' home opener on Sept. 4, Staff Sgt. John C. Martie, of Suffolk (pictured here with ODU President John Broderick), a member of ODU's Army ROTC Monarch Battalion who is scheduled to receive his officer's commission next May, served as honorary captain. Martie was awarded the Purple Heart for wounds he received in Iraq after a roadside bomb struck his Bradley Fighting Vehicle in July 2004.

Martie, who entered the Army in 2002 as a combat medic, broke his leg and suffered a severe concussion and herniated disks in his back during the incident. Ignoring his own injuries, he tended to his fellow soldiers who were wounded until all of his comrades had been cared for and evacuated.

Booz Allen Hamilton, a leading strategy and technology consulting firm, is sponsoring the wounded warrior program as a tribute to members of the country's armed forces who have been serving overseas.

McKeag doesn't remember the IED (improvised explosive device) going off beneath the up-armored M1114 Humvee he and two fellow soldiers were riding in the evening of Sept. 26, 2004. He was knocked out for 10 minutes and only recalls being awakened by a medic as he was evacuated to a nearby hospital.

He was one of 10 soldiers taking part in a three-vehicle patrol that had just started out on a roadside bomb sweep. "I was the unlucky one in the vehicles that go hit," McKeag said, "the only one out of the group that got hurt." He suffered a head wound, and for the next two weeks had a medic "taking pieces of shrapnel and concrete from my skull on a daily basis."

McKeag then rejoined his unit, "but things didn't go as well as they should have," he said. He ended up back in the States, at Fort Bragg, and ultimately returning to civilian life. He currently works for the Navy as a financial tech with Military Sealift Fleet Support Command in Norfolk.

As a specialist E-4 in the Army, McKeag had been in Iraq since January 2004. An MP, he also served as a gunner and driver on patrols and convoy escorts. He had enlisted in the Army while a senior at Tabb High School in Yorktown back in 1997. Prior to deploying to Iraq, his service included a two-year stint in South Korea.

Like his fellow comrades, McKeag knew the risks of combat, but was hoping he could escape military service without injury. In the months following his incident, he developed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). McKeag left the Army in June 2005.

"I had trouble adjusting because of my disability. Nobody knew what to do with it. I was having trouble adjusting to civilian life. My father, who was a big part of my support group, helped me out."

With the additional help of vocational services from the VA Medical Center in Hampton, McKeag took advantage of the GI Bill and enrolled at Thomas Nelson Community College. Two years later, he transferred to ODU, where he majored in accounting, with a minor in finance. He took his final course this summer for his bachelor's degree in business administration.

McKeag couldn't be happier with his ODU experience. "It was a very good education. I learned a lot," he says. But on the other hand, things didn't come easily for a student who was attending school full time while working full time, and struggling with PTSD.

"You've got to learn to live with it," he said. "It takes a lot of communications that you don't normally want to do."

In addition to the moral and emotional support from his family, along with medical support from the VA Medical Center, McKeag likewise found a caring community at ODU.

"It also took my fraternity, Lambda Chi Alpha, rallying to support me - knowing what my special needs were and helping me succeed at ODU," he said.

"Same thing with the faculty, especially Dr. [Laurie] Henry. Whenever she saw that I was struggling, she would help me out. And when she knew I was having trouble getting the focus that I needed, she pulled out study aides and helped me one-on-one, when I know she didn't have to."

In addition to Henry, an associate professor of accounting, and other faculty members in the College of Business and Public Administration, including Robert Pinsker, assistant professor of accounting, McKeag relied on assistance from the Office of Disability Services (now the Office of Educational Accessibility), headed by Kate Broderick.

"They did a great job with the testing facilities and helping me with the writing exam by repeating things back to me - not actually helping me write it, but basically saying listen to what you wrote, and think about what you could do better.

"The fact that I was in a nice quiet environment, and didn't feel the pressure of taking a test like I normally did when I was in the classroom, really helped. Any question I ever had, they were always there to help me out. And if they didn't have the answer immediately, they told me they would find it out and call me back. ODU does take care of people with special needs and disabilities."

"It was a great experience for me overall," McKeag added, "and I have no problem telling anybody who wants to know about ODU that it's a great school. I would recommend it to anybody."

As a newly minted graduate, a former member of the armed forces, and holder of the Purple Heart, McKeag, who calls himself "an avid ODU fan," said he is looking forward to his honorary role at the Monarchs' football game on Saturday.

Among those accompanying him to the game will be his fiancée, whom he describes as an equally avid W&M fan. "I'm bringing her to the game so that when ODU wins I can tease her a little bit," he said.

This article was posted on: September 14, 2010

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