By Annette P. Gomes, U.S. Army Warrior Care and TransitionDecember 19, 2019
ALEXANDRIA, Va. -- U.S. Army Sgt. Chris Schof was born to lead and in order to do that, he had to follow in his family's military footsteps.
Schof's father retired from the Air Force after 26 years of service. His mother also served in the Air Force for four years. Two uncles and both sets of grandfathers served in WWII and the Korean War respectively.
"I knew at a young age I wanted to serve and it was an honor to follow in their footsteps," said Schof, who enlisted in the Army in 2003. However, just three years into his Army career, his life as he knew it changed forever.
"We were doing a night time patrol and leaving a traffic check-point serpentine. (A maneuver used to control traffic) That's when the improvised explosive device went off," Schof recalled. "It looked like a transformer blew. I remember falling down inside the Stryker vehicle and all of a sudden my ears were ringing and my arm hurt."
The infantryman suffered extensive arm damage as a result of the explosion. After enduring several surgeries, Schof medically retired and began to think about his future.
His lifeline came in the form of the Vocational Rehabilitation and Education Program (VR&E). The program administered through the Department of Veterans Affairs works in partnership with the Army Recovery Care Program to assist veterans with service-connected disabilities and an employment handicap to prepare for, find, and maintain a job. It also helps transitioning service members take advantage of educational opportunities.
"The Vocational Rehabilitation and Education Program (VR&E) was amazing. The counselor and I sat down and discussed everything. He was an Air Force veteran and I felt safe and trusted him with my future," Schof said. "Originally, I wanted to be a plumber, an electrician or a nurse, but the counselor was honest and helped me realize I could not work a job that required the full use of my arm."
After working with his counselor, Schof decided to pursue a career in engineering.
"The counselor provided me everything I needed to be successful and words of encouragement when I wanted to quit. It was difficult to juggle going to school full time and balancing my family life. The program took me six years to achieve my bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering," Schof said.
His hard work and determination paid off. Schof also obtained a Master of Science in mechanical engineering and is currently working with the Navy as a mechanical engineer, but he has not ruled out other areas within the engineering field.
"Initially, when I first started going to school I really loved biomedical engineering. I wanted the opportunity to work with prosthetics. I wanted to help give back some life or function. I hope to pursue that avenue in the future," Schof said.
Through it all, Schof says joining the military provided the road map for his success.
"The Army was the best thing to happen to me. After joining the Army I became a member of a team and a family," Schof said. "Life gets tough and it may be hard, but you can do anything you put your mind to. Never give up -- That is too easy."