Enlisting in the Army after graduating from high school in 2012 was all Colin Jandt ever wanted.
“Until his recent passing in December, my great grandfather was one of the last living P.O.W.’s from World War II,” he says. Jandt’s grandfather served in Vietnam, his father in Desert Shield/Desert Storm. “My grandpa’s wish for me was to go into the military.”
Jandt completed basic training at Fort Benning, attended airborne school, and in March 2014, was deployed as a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division. In November 2014, he lost his best friend Joseph Riley, who was killed in a suicide bombing in Afghanistan.
After undergoing therapy and doing his best to cope, Jandt eventually re-enlisted and went to Fort Carson, Colorado, in 2016. Soon after, he was deployed again and suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI), eventually returning to find himself medically “separated” from active duty.
“All I knew was the Army,” he says. “But I had PTSD and a TBI and my injuries were too severe.”
Despite support from a brain injury team, Jandt couldn’t shake the depression. For a long time, he wouldn’t leave the house.
Growing up in a small farm town in California, Jandt rode wild horses and bulls, so he found a ranch in Brighton, Colorado, and started riding bulls there, eventually qualifying to ride professionally. He performed at the National Western Stock Show in 2019 and hopes to do so again.
“It was an outlet that got me out there doing something,” he says.
But it wasn’t enough. He continued to see his PTSD therapist, Steve Carleton, at the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Aurora, Colorado. “He was like, ‘You need to go to school, man,’ and I was like, ‘I can’t; I have a traumatic brain injury.’ But he kept saying, ‘Your brain injury team is working so hard to retrain your cognitive skills and your brain won’t be fully developed until you’re twenty-nine, so you have time.’”
Every session the conversation replayed until one-day Jandt went home and looked at pictures of his friend who died.
“I wear this bracelet on my wrist with his name,” he says. “I started crying. I was like, ‘I was given a second chance in life. I need to do something.’”
With help from the Veterans Services Center at the Community College of Denver (CCD), Jandt decided to enroll in courses.
“It was super easy and almost like it was meant to happen because it was the last week of registration for summer classes. I hated school growing up but everyone kept saying it’s way different here; just go.”
Jandt took an introduction to business class with instructor Jamal Bowen who helped him adjust to the challenges of campus life.
“I learned a lot from his class. He started talking to me about his life and I started talking about mine. He kept trying to get me out of the house.”
Bowen invited Jandt to join his flag football team and when the summer semester ended along with the games, he continued to connect with Jandt.
“Every day between our schedules, he would check in with me,” Jandt says.
Now enrolled in four classes, Jandt has made a “small circle of friends” and continues to receive support from CCD faculty like his public speaking instructor, Natalee Briscoe.
“She’ll work with me to prepare for a speech. I practice by presenting it to her and she helps me relax and makes sure it’s good.”
His world mythology instructor, Nick Morris, always makes himself available to Jandt and helps him to schedule his work around his many VA appointments. Jandt tries to schedule those on Fridays, his day off from classes. He’s made a mission of informally mentoring other vets coping with TBIs and PTSD.
He hopes to complete a two-year degree at CCD and go on to a four-year college to study neuroscience.
“The brain hasn’t been studied very long so a lot of my doctors don’t have the answers,” he says. “I want to learn about how the brain functions and what they’re learning.”
Jandt credits his PTSD therapist for never giving up on pushing him to go to school.
“You know when somebody dies in your family — that’s the way I felt from the second I got out of the Army until I went back to school. I had a few happy days riding bulls at the ranch but otherwise, I just felt distant from others, loss, and emptiness. CCD has been like a full one-hundred-and-eighty-degree change in my life.”