After difficult years of service, veteran André Cruz is starting over at SPSCC

South Puget Sound Community College veteran student André Cruz is currently taking classes in computer programming and networking. He served in the Coast Guard from August 2004 to July 2006 and, while he wouldn’t trade the experience for anything, his service ended up turning into a nightmare.

Cruz turned down the Guaranteed ‘A’ School to try different things and see what the Service was like. He did several jobs, including working at the Military’s Information Technology Department. He went through a condensed version of a culinary arts school, and got Licensed Practical Nurse Certified, as that was also part of his previous experience.

When he finally got onto a ship, things started out well enough, but the schedule was stressful.

“People in the Navy complain about the rotation,” but in comparison to the Coast Guard the Navy has fairly good rotation.

According to Cruz the Coast Guard goes out for three months, then returns sometimes for only a week or two for reload, minor maintenance, then they would quickly go back out.

Cruz’s Commanding Officer had problems with him. André said, “I’m not going to name names, but he was an O-2, my Division Officer. He would threaten my life, threaten harm to my career, always joke on me, calling me ‘gay’ and slang for “gay” like ‘fairy.’”

The Officer’s two friends also joined in the hazing. “While we were out at sea, they threatened to throw me overboard and stuff like that, they told me nobody would miss me,” Cruz said.

Cruz tried to report these incidents to the higher-ups, but it only ended up making things worse. He also tried talking to an Army Chaplain, but the incidents still didn’t stop. Cruz was told in a nutshell that the guy was protected because of his rank.

“It’s easier to get rid of me than it is someone they’ve put so much time and money into and training, like an officer or even an E-5. That’s what it seemed like, and that was basically the story I was told by other people,” Cruz said.

If nothing else, he said he discovered the reason behind the hazings. “He had a problem with me because I made him feel stupid, because he went to school for six years for engineering and he couldn’t figure out stuff that I figured out in a matter of minutes. So he didn’t like that, even though he took credit when stuff got done,” said Cruz.

One day Cruz was walking down some stairs in especially turbulent waters when he slipped and fell. Cruz hurt his neck and back, and suffered a traumatic brain injury also known as TBI. “My TBI isn’t as bad as some people’s. Mine was just a severe concussion from hitting my head several times,” he said.

It’s been six years since Cruz got out of the Coast Guard.

“If you’re on a boat you’re supposed to be able to switch over to a Land Unit if you want to stay in. They wouldn’t even let me switch to a Land Unit,” he said.

Cruz suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and, after six years, he is finally eligible for Disability.

Cruz was recently put on medicine to get rid of his headaches.

“It’s helping a little bit, but it only takes the edge off, so I’m still sort of disoriented,” he said.

The doctors are trying to adjust the strength of the medicine to see if it will prevent the headaches. “If not, we’re going to switch to something else,” said Cruz.

After all he’s been through, Cruz remains upbeat.

“I actually loved the Coast Guard, I just didn’t like what happened to me.”

He said he still retains a sense of structure and discipline that he applies to his learning at SPSCC.

“With my headaches, it’s hard for me. I’ve been out of class several times, so I have to play catch-up a lot, which is frustrating, but this is what I want to do….I’m pretty strong-willed. I’ve never given up on anything, except for my marriage, and that was with great reluctance,” he said.