Iraq Veteran Finds Support in Facing PTSD, Brain Trauma While Seeking Degree
Update: This story was recently named the winner of the Best of District V Award for storytelling as determined by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE). As we honor veterans in the month of November, Kent State Today is resharing this story from last year to highlight an amazing student and veteran who is making the most of every day.
Brian Gliba is the guy you want to take a walk with on a nice fall day.
He loves to chat about the great outdoors, and his smile, laugh and easy-going personality would make just about anyone want to spend time with him.
Originally from Chagrin Falls, Ohio, Brian clearly lives in the moment, looking to make the most of each day.
Most of all, Brian's friendly demeanor welcomes you and makes you feel as though you've known him for years and have already made many memories together.
Yet, Brian will be the first to admit that his actual memory fails him from time to time.
Blame that on his second tour in Iraq.
The dedicated U.S. Army officer suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI) that took its toll on his memory and, combined with his PTSD, led to Brian's early exit under a medical retirement from the career he so loved.
Tough First Steps
A decade after combat, Brian took a chance on a lifetime goal he'd been putting off.
He enrolled in graduate school seeking a master's degree in environmental biology at Kent State University, hoping that his challenges wouldn't hold him back.
So far, that gamble has paid off.
"Talking with the professors, they've all been extremely helpful, especially when it comes to exams and helping me do whatever I need to do to be successful. And so far I'm a 4.0 student and most of it's been because of the help of the professors.
All students need support, but Brian says the genuine support he's received at Kent State has made an exponential impact.
"Anybody who's got a disability is struggling with self-esteem and self-confidence issues," he says. "And so having that background and support from the faculty and the university is huge. It feels like I can actually do it. I could be successful at it, which is going to incorporate going from being medically retired now for over 10 years to going back into the working field and benefiting society again. So it's extremely important."
"When I first came to Kent, I didn't know they had a student accessibility service services department, which is SAS," Brian says. "And once I learned about it, I immediately applied for it. It's been able to help with double the time needed to take an exam. Sometimes I gotta re-read the question two, three, four times. And so the exam when I first started took an extra hour to complete beyond the average student. So I'm allowed to go into basically a computer room by myself with my service dog and type out my answers on a keyboard.
"Part of my condition affects my hand so I don't write very well. And so it, it's allowed me extra time quiet what do you call it? Distraction with little distractions? But (professors) allow me to record the classroom discussions and get my content online as well. So I've got everything in my laptop."
"The Army was my home, and I loved it. It gave me a lot of opportunities, but it taught me how to work with people, especially difficult people, and how to deal with stress. And so certain testing environments can be stressful or create anxiety and to me, it feels like nothing now, but I'm just used to all stresses I guess."
Brian left the Army as a captain, but while he's no longer in uniform, he said he feels the university supports veterans and that Kent State's Center for Adult and Veteran Services and Student Accessibility Services have helped set him up for success.
"Coming here to Kent State has been probably the most friendly when it comes to veterans, but it's like the accessibility is amazing. The grounds crew, anytime there's an issue, it seems like within minutes they're fixing it, cleaning it up. So I've not had any accessibility issues given my injuries."
He Saves My Life Every Day
If you see Brian, odds are you'll see Teddy too. Whether on or off campus, Brian and Teddy are pretty much inseparable.
The lovable Saint Bernard is a rescue dog from Salt Lake City, Utah, but he's more than just a four-legged friend; he also plays a critical role in Brian's health.
"He's a medical alert dog. I've got some conditions where at home produce various hormones and so he alerts me when my cortisol levels are low to the point where it's gonna impact my sugar levels. And so when he alerts me that means I gotta take medication. He saves my life every day."
As Brian is honored for his military service on Nov. 11 for Veterans Day, Teddy will celebrate his 6th birthday.
Bonding With Nature
"Ever since I got out of the military, I started working with nonprofits, and one of the biggest things that my journey took me on was nature and the healing effect of nature," Brian said. "And so a lot of these nonprofits will take you out on the river, out in the woods, maybe on a hunting or fishing trip to teach you a little bit about conservation efforts. Stuff like that.
"And I started seeing the impact and the benefit and how useful it was for me as well as other vets that I started to bring along with me. And so looking into the future and the impact on climate change, we were seeing a large number of jobs opening up in environmental sciences."
Bonding with nature and his daily walks with Teddy have also led Brian to his current passion project, improving accessibility to Trail Lake Park, just north of Kent.
"It's one of Portage County's best and newest parks," Brian said. "It is what they consider to be fully accessible with a blacktop paved trail that's at least 5 feet wide. It's one of their busiest parks and most like it's very diverse with wildlife and vegetation as well as a fairly healthy lake or pond if you want to call it that. At Trail Lake Park, they're working on several projects at the same time. One of 'em is a forest tree rehab program.
"So far, we did a preliminary evaluation and certain levels. So where they planted the trees goes from the high point down into little ridge back up to high point. And so the area closest to the trail doesn't seem to be doing very well, but the area closest to the woodline has been quite successful."
Future park visitors will benefit from Brian's work, and that makes him smile. Still, even when his project is complete, Brian hopes visitors will say hello to that old veteran and a dog who are just enjoying every day they have together as a gift.
Professionally, Brian hopes for a role with the Department of the Interior, whether it's Fish and Wildlife, national parks, or environmental science or a conservation role. Reaching that goal means Brian made the most of his classroom experiences too, and he hopes other veterans will follow his lead.
"Use your benefits, whether you think you can be successful at it or not," he says. "I know Kent State may be up above most of the other universities, and you don't know until you try."
Video: Jon Jivan, Ashton Blake
Photos: Brian Gliba, Rami Daud