Cesare Kissinger was just settling into his first year at Catonsville Community College when we was called into active duty for service in the Persian Gulf last December.
After serving four years with the Navy, Kissinger, 23, had joined the reserves in August, ready to pursue his educational career in business administration at Catonsville.
But the gulf war put his plans on hold.
Now, back from Kuwait and wounded, Kissinger has received an unexpected gift of thanks from the administration at Catonsville. All Catonsville Community College students who are veterans of Operation Desert Storm are eligible for a grant which will fully cover tuition costs through 1993.
Kissinger, a medical corpsman also known as "Doc," was the first to apply.
The College Foundation for Persian Gulf personnel is the brainchild of Jon and Betsey Collins, faculty members at Catonsville.
The couple had already started a volunteer network to temporarily adopt the pets of people called to active duty, but, Jon Collins says, they wanted to do more.
"Since we both teach at the community college we thought it would be appropriate to encourage [the troops] to immediately come back to school," Collins says.
The Collinses suggested that Catonsville start a fund for students returning from the Persian Gulf that pay for the remainder of their classes at Catonsville.
The college "unanimously voted to support this," Collins says. Catonsville's fund, he says, is the first of its kind.
"A lot of these young people have hardships -- financial setbacks, they've lost valuable time," he says. "These students . . . feel like they need to catch up."
"Many of them were pulled out in the middle of their college career with no backup to replace the money lost on their tuition," agrees Ardell Terry, director of corporate and foundation relations for Catonsville.
"This scholarship will ease their concern with getting back to their career plans -- it gets them right back on track without skipping a beat."
There were no figures available from the U.S. Department of Education on the number of students called into active duty or how great the need would be for tuition compensation.
But the department has sent letters to lending institutions and universities encouraging them to make exceptions for student veterans.
There currently is only about $7,000 in Catonsville's fund, most of which consists of scholarship money donated to the school. Tuition costs there are $37 per credit, with a 30-credit year costing almost $1,200.
Terry admits that she is unsure of the exact number of Catonsville students who will qualify or apply for the grant.
"We still have several students serving," she says, but adds that she estimates the final number will be around nine or 10 veterans. So far, only two students, Kissinger and another medical corpsman, Michael Lease, have applied.
Kissinger is to remain on active duty while he receives treatment for his leg and toe, damaged by a hand grenade. Still on crutches, he's working at Bethesda Naval Hospital through the summer, and plans to continue with his classes at Catonsville in the fall.
Kissinger says he hopes to complete his education at a four-year college or university after finishing at Catonsville, which is a two-year institution. He hopes to expand his studies to include marketing, and "get into sales" upon graduation.
Collins said he wants to see the fund grow to include enough money to help the veterans from the Vietnam War and their children.
"We just want the Foundation Grant grant to keep serving veterans, if not directly, at least their children."