It may not be always be a direct pathway or an easy journey, but Army veteran and College of the Desert automotive student Zackariah Wendler knows that dreams can become reality. As a child, Zac dreamed of joining the military and working in Special Forces. Yet, following graduation from high school, he found himself drifting. For years he moved from place to place, working small jobs before ending up back home as a laborer. He found that he liked construction and working with his hands to accomplish a project. When the owner of the construction company for which he worked died suddenly, Zac was faced with a life decision. His thoughts returned to the military and his dream of Special Forces. He sold everything he owned, moved in with his father and began processing to join the Army. Zac settled into military life and started training to apply for Special Forces. But in 2009, while stationed in Korea, multiple injuries forced him to transition out of active military duty. This change of direction was difficult. Zac knew he needed a path back to work and civilian life. His inspiration came from within…and a little help from College of the Desert.
“I have always enjoyed fixing things and love working on cars,” says Zac. “I researched options for automotive programs, and discovered that College of the Desert offers something that other colleges don’t ...... the ability to pursue a degree along with vocational skills training.”
The COD Automotive Program is a good fit for Zac. The instructors are all highly skilled, very well connected and helpful in linking students to jobs. In addition, the College’s Veterans Resources Center has helped to pave his way, making the transition from military to civilian life easier.
“It had been 13 years since I had been in school,” he said. “I had forgotten how to be a student, but Donni Prince and the student helpers in the BIGHORN Golf Club Charities Veterans Resources Center have been a huge support.” Zac says the staff at the center communicate in a way to which he can relate. They provide emotional support, academic assistance and job resources.
Zac is continuing his military service as Chaplain’s Assistant in a Reserve Unit at March AFB. “I may have dreamed of Special Forces, but I know my service now is also essential to defending our freedoms and serving our country,” he explains.
Today, he has a new dream: Zac will be the first in his family to attend college and earn a degree. He will have a career in a field that he loves and that will provide for his family. “It makes me proud to know that my path will open the door for the next generation,” says Zac. “I have three sons and already the two older ones plan to go to college. They have the direction that I lacked coming out of high school.”
Zac’s message to everyone who has helped him along the way is this: Thank you! “With your support for the College and students like me, you truly are changing lives.”