David Rogers’ seven-year Army career ended in 2013 but, when he sleeps, a recurring dream still takes him back to southern Afghanistan.
It always ends the same way, with some of his fellow soldiers asking him why he left. Sometimes he wakes up in tears, seeking out his dog, Bragg, for comfort.
“There’s this piece of me that’s always going to kind of be there in time with them,” Rogers said. “I knew that, in order for me to proceed with my life, it was time to make some changes and pursue other things. But I guess there’s a guilt that’s still kind of there.”
Rogers deals with those feelings, in part, by writing. His passion for writing started when he was in high school and, during his first deployment in the Philippines, he found it to be a good release for his emotions.
About a year after Rogers finished his third and final combat deployment, a high school friend who also served in the Army, Grant Rogers, approached him about a project. He had the idea for a book that included stories from 22 veterans about war and dealing with its aftermath.
The book, The Fire Within: Shedding Light on Trauma, came out in April. David Rogers’ story “Patrolling for Clemency,” based on his recurring dream and other facets of his combat experience, is part of the collection.
It’s not exactly how Rogers, who will receive his Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from Columbia College-San Diego next month, envisioned himself becoming a published author. But he is proud to be a part of it.
“I feel it was a way for me to kind of get some of the demons out of my closet,” Rogers said. “Sharing something like this, it took a lot for me. It was kind of like a support system, too, because there are all these other authors. I feel like it was a support group in that sense, in that we all had our story and we all had each other’s back. It was just very therapeutic overall.”
Rogers is one of more than 9,400 active-duty servicemembers, veterans or dependents that Columbia College served during the 2016-17 school year. During Veterans Week, from November 6-10, the college community wrote “thank you” notes to veterans and decorated Bass Commons on main campus with nearly 3,000 miniature American flags, one for each victim of the attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.
On November 10, the day before Veterans Day, director of Veterans Services Keith Glindemann led a remembrance ceremony in which the names of the 33 servicemembers who have lost their lives in the past year were read. Behind him, ceiling-to-floor banners displayed the names of all 6,930 American servicemembers who have been killed in the 16 years of war since the 9/11 attacks.
Rogers’ path to Columbia College was fairly unconventional. After being honorably discharged from the Army, he got an irresistible urge to move to San Diego. He was living in Florida at the time and had never been to the city, but he wanted to make the move.
He started researching colleges in the area and came upon Columbia College.
“I got the number, called them and, within a week, maybe two, I already had my whole degree plan,” Rogers said. “I was making my move.”
Rogers had started community college once, in Florida, but it wasn’t the right fit. The majority of the student population was younger and, he said, “didn’t care to be there.” Columbia College’s San Diego location, which pulls in students from Naval Base San Diego and Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, was more his speed.
“It was really great for me in the sense of that whole life transition from military to civilian life,” Rogers said. “I was constantly around like-minded individuals. With our location, everybody wants to be there.”
He also worked as the student employee at the location from March 2016 through July 2017, a time in which he got to interact with Marines and sailors who are in the same shoes he was not too long ago: looking to start their higher education journey without a clue of how to go about it. Through his time as a student employee, the San Diego staff became a second family for Rogers.
“My mom came to visit last year when I walked for my associate (degree), and it was the first time she’d ever been in San Diego,” Rogers said. “I got to bring her along and she met (location director) Diana (Schriefer) and the whole team. She loves them to death. It’s so nice having a home away from home.”
Rogers hopes to start law school next year. He wants to go into labor and employment law, so he can help veterans navigate the convoluted systems of health care and disability pay. He also hopes to combine that with his business administration degree to do pro bono work helping veterans who want to start businesses secure all the necessary licenses and certificates.
And he wants to go on writing. Someday, he hopes to publish a collection of his writings from the time he joined the Army in 2006 through his transition back to civilian life.
Rogers’ hope is that The Fire Within can serve as inspiration for other veterans who struggle with similar demons. He and the other 21 contributors to the book correspond regularly in a Facebook chat group. One of them recently told the story of a friend who had served with him in Iraq, one who was contemplating suicide.
He read the book. He decided against it.
“That, in itself, is just amazing,” Rogers said. “I’ve had a ton of my close personal friends reach out (about my story) like, ‘Oh man, that’s just dead on.’ It resonated with a lot of them. My mom, she said that after reading (the book), it helped her understand better what was going on, just with so many different perspectives.”