WASHINGTON (Army News Service, May 18, 2010) -- Six wounded warriors graduated May 16 with master's degrees as part of a partnership between the Army and University of Kansas.

Capt. Gates Brown, retired Capt. Wes Fine, retired Capt. David Holden, Capt. Tim Hornik, Chief Warrant Officer Ari Jean-Baptiste and retired Sgt. Rob Laurent, were the first six graduates from the Wounded Warrior Education Incentive.

The program was started in early 2008, with the goal of helping wounded warriors go back to school and earn a master's degree. Under the program, a warrior who has completed a degree will serve as faculty or staff at different organizations within Army academia.

"It's a great opportunity to ... get back in the Army," said Laurent, who was wounded in Iraq, Christmas Eve 2004, when an improvised explosive device struck his vehicle. "We were able to go to school and get (a) master's degree that was paid for by the Army and then to have a job lined up -- you can't really ask for anything better than that."

Laurent will soon be taking a job as an operations manager at the Army Logistics University on Fort Lee, Va.

Army officials have said they hope the partnership will help stem the loss of military knowledge, education and experience that occurs when wounded warriors leave the service.

"It feels very good," said Hornik, who was nearly blinded as a result of being shot by a sniper in Iraq in 2004. He graduated with a master's in social work.

"It's a degree I never thought I would try going for and one where it opened up a bunch of new opportunities for me that otherwise never would have opened up," he said. "(It) also provided me with a new set of tools (that) I could use to help other people."

The program is open to active-duty and medical retirees who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom or Operation Enduring Freedom. Applicants must have a bachelor's degree and be eligible for admission into the University of Kansas graduate school.

As part of the Army's overall effort to help wounded warriors transition back into the Army and civilian life, the Wounded Warrior Education Incentive -- and programs like it -- are key in giving warriors new opportunities in life.

"It would have been easy for Rob to sit around and feel sorry for himself because of his injuries, yet he continually rises above the situation and achieves greatness," said Briley Laurent. "I am thankful for such an extraordinary husband!"

For more information on this and other programs for wounded warriors, visit www.aw2.army.mil.