Robert Suarez served in the U.S. Marines for eight years – including a deployment to Iraq, before an injury led to the end of his military career.

Between his back injury, subsequent back surgery to fuse part of his spine and PTSD, making the transition to civilian life has been a challenge, but UCF is helping him start a new chapter.

“I have met many veterans who are also studying and many of them have already graduated from UCF,” said Suarez, who is pursuing a degree in the College of Business Administration. hopes to eventually work for a private company that specializes in military defense contracts. “I see the great things they are doing and they are not giving up. This fuels my spirit to continue pushing myself to greatness—not only for myself and my family, but to inspire other veterans, as well.”

Suarez joined the Marine Corps in May 2003, after graduating from high school. While training to be an Armor Marine at Fort Knox in Kentucky, he learned to prepare the tanks, ammunition and equipment for movement and how to combat operate, maintain and maneuver the 70-ton M1A1 Abrams Tanks before being stationed in Jacksonville, North Carolina. He deployed to Iraq in 2005 and was able to finish his tour despite hurting his back while on tank maneuvers.

As part of his duties, the Dominican Republic native, managed a diverse group of junior marines and helped them with their finances and training, which led him to want to major in human resources at UCF. He hopes to eventually work for a private company that specializes in military defense contracts.

Studying and staying focused during classes is challenging, but Suarez knows his weaknesses and focuses on his strengths. He schedules extra time to study, and he and his wife Dianes, take the same classes together, so they can study together and Dianes can further explain the material when needed.

“After my surgery, my life was completely turned around,” Suarez said. “I was not the same person. I had to depend on Dianes and my mother to take care of me. I could not accept that I was not going to be able to continue my career in the military.”

He and Dianes are majoring in human resource management at UCF and completing minors in leadership studies and real estate. Suarez said his classes are giving him a better understanding of HR management, training, development, recruitment and the legal and ethical aspects of the career. They expect to graduate in the fall of 2017 and then pursue master degrees.

“The Marines have prepared me to be a leader, give and follow directions, plan, find ways to effectively and efficiently achieve goals,” he said. “I am inspired when I see other veterans overcoming so many obstacles, pursuing a degree and chasing a better future. UCF is helping me reach my new dreams.”