Cleatis Trotter is the kind of guy who meets his goals regardless of the obstacles.
It’s a trait he developed over 22 years in the Army and a mind-set he used when his pursuit of a college degree was sidelined by a motorcycle wreck last year that broke his neck.
“The discipline and the will to do good and do better, it sticks with you … any soldier will tell you that,” the 51-year-old said.
Discharged as a sergeant first class, Trotter intended to take advantage of the educational benefits he earned through his service. He kept records of all his training classes in the Army and some college credits from the early ’80s to expedite his enrollment using the post-9/11 G.I. Bill.
His goal was a degree in information technology after years performing similar work in the Signal Corps at Fort Gordon.
His first class at the University of Phoenix’s Augusta campus was scheduled for June 13, 2011. But on May 31, Trotter was injured. He was riding his motorcycle just a few blocks from home when he skidded on a patch of gravel. It was a low-speed slide, about 30 mph, but Trotter threw himself off the bike in a failed attempt to avoid serious injury.
He was wearing a helmet but suffered an orbital fracture, deep cuts to his face and a broken neck. Seven days in the hospital segued into months of recovery at home.
“The hardest part was the recovery,” Trotter said. “I couldn’t lift my right arm and the other was in a sling, My wife had to do everything for me.”
One of those tasks was contacting his military enrollment adviser at the University of Phoenix while he was in the hospital to make sure she understood he wasn’t ignoring his classes. Over the subsequent months, his adviser, Bridget Lavan, checked on his progress, and Trotter reminded her that he was coming back to school.
By December, he was sufficiently recovered to return to work, and in January he started his first class. His recovery is nearly complete, and he has found that he can still play basketball at his old speed. Most importantly, his graduation is still on track.
Education is vital, especially among veterans looking for work in a sour job market, said Trotter, who wants to set an example for others to follow.
“It’s never too late (to get a degree),” he said. “If they see you can do it, then they’ll go for it.”