He started his adult life homeless, and entered the Army to get a roof over his head. But when U.S. Army Spc. Yasser Richard ’13 saw a barefoot child in threadbare clothes on a street in Kabul, Afghanistan, he knew how lucky he was. He promised himself that he would dedicate his life to helping people escape a life of poverty.
To follow his dream of making the world a better place would require education, and tuition and books cost money. Richard would get help toward his goal from a fellow veteran, retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Mike Waters ’70.
Waters established a scholarship at Oswego to help young veterans just like Richard fulfill their dreams. “When I met Yasser, I was blown away by his story. He is the epitome of the kind of person I wanted to help with this scholarship,” said Waters.
Richard’s family came from Haiti and settled in the Washington Heights area of New York City. In his late teens, he found himself homeless. A visit to the Army recruiting office convinced him to sign up to escape life on the streets.
“My training gave me a sense of purpose that I didn’t have before,” he said. In April 2008 he volunteered for deployment to Afghanistan.
Before he enlisted, Richard said, he had made some destructive choices.
“When I went to Afghanistan and saw my first suicide explosion, all that seemed so pointless,” he said. What’s more, he gained newfound faith. “I entered agnostic. After that [experience] I sought something more spiritual.”
After eight months on gate guard duty at Camp Phoenix, he was assigned to an international security team to provide personal security for generals and other high-ranking officials. It was on one such mission in winter, when he saw a young Afghan girl with no shoes and only a thin layer of clothing.
“I had my helmet, armor and warm clothing underneath,” he said. “But I grew up in Haiti between the ages of 7 and 9, and I remember the poverty like that.
“Although these places were 7,000 miles apart, the conditions were so similar. I thought, if I could ease what was going on here, maybe I could do it in Haiti or other places.”
When his platoon sergeant was killed while on a mission that Richard would have been on, Richard was confirmed in his desire to return to the States and make a difference for those in poverty. “I’m alive because of him. To do anything different would be a disgrace to him and to the others killed in combat,” Richard said.
After discharge, he came to Oswego and is majoring in chemistry. He hopes to help the poor of the world through applying food science to alleviate hunger.
In the meantime, he does what he can to reduce hunger by volunteering in a Syracuse soup kitchen each month.
As a non-traditional student, Richard must juggle the demands of school with real-life needs like rent, a car loan, and insurance. He said he is thankful for Waters’ help. “It eases my stress about how I will pay for next year,” he said. “It makes me feel more confident and secure.”He also appreciates that Waters chose to help another veteran with his scholarship. “Veterans look out for each other on the battlefield, and stateside,” Richard said.
“What Mr. Waters did inspires me. I can’t wait until I can contribute to a scholarship and help another veteran.”
He also agrees with Waters about the importance of giving back to the college.
“You grow here, develop your views here, make friends here and figure out what the next stage of your life will be, here,” Richard said. “It’s a special place, and like anything essential in nature, it should be preserved.”
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