Second Chance for Vets

Veterans have made the ultimate sacrifice to help preserve freedom for their fellow Americans and as a way of giving back to them, UConn's Entrepreneurial Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilites has partnered with the football team to show thanks and appreciation for our former soldiers.

"It's a group of people that are able to do so many things," said Doug Yeager, a 38-year-old native of Winsted, Conn. "We've been hit before. We've had something that happened in the war and affected our lives, but all these people stood back up."

The EBV is a program that helps to provide veterans with an education through the UConn School of Business to give them the necessary skills, contacts and opportunities to help them start their own business. UConn is one of seven universities in the nation that provides this service. At UConn there are currently 26 members in the EBV, nine women and 17 men. The EBV was started in 2009 by retired Lt. Col. Mike Zacchea. Since its beginnings, the EBV has helped 25 veterans start 27 businesses.

"It's truly an inspiring group," said Justin Nash, a 35-year-old native of Chesire, Conn. Nash served as an Infantry Officer, in the Korengal Valley, one of the most dangerous parts of Afghanistan. He is a graduate of West Point Academy and received his degree in mechanical engineering.

On Tuesday, the Huskies played host to Yeager and Nash, who served and were injured during their tours in Afghanistan. Nash was injured from rocket fire as he tried to take cover. He has had two surgeries and wears a support bandage on his left wrist for nerve damage, which he has also suffered in his elbow and shoulder. Yeager has no visible injuries, but has been on medication since his return from Afghanistan for his battles with PTSD, depression, memory loss and sleep issues.

The veterans, along with other members of the EBV, spent the day at the Burton Family Complex, watching practice, eating dinner with the team and meeting the coaches and players.

"It just brings home the awareness of how important they are and how insignificant we are," coach Paul Pasqualoni said. "We're over here playing a kids' game and they are over there making every sacrifice you can make, putting their lives on the line. We can't be appreciative enough."

Justin Nash plans to become a general contractor (Ken Davis)

Both Nash and Yeager are currently enrolled at UConn, earning their MBA and EMBA degrees respectively. With their degrees and the help of the EBV, both are working on starting their own businesses. According to Yeager, the EBV has been an outstanding opportunity for him and has found it to be a place for camaraderie and somewhere for the veterans to share their ideas.

Nash, who is currently working for McKenney Mechanical in Newton, Conn., plans to become a general contractor. He said he would like to work on energy and government projects. Nash is very thankful of the opportunity he's been given and hopes it will be very beneficial to himself and his current employer.

"I think my real passion is on the wings," said Yeager. He has many aviation business ideas regarding navigation, civilian aircrafts and remotely piloted vehicles. He hopes to provide jobs in his town as well as many other former mill towns across the state. Yeager is a former member of the Marine Corps Reserve and served with the Conn. National Guard in Farah, Afghanistan.

Neither has been to Rentschler Field, but along with other members of the EBV they will get to see the stadium Saturday as they partake in The Opening coin toss before UConn's game against Buffalo (noon, SNY).

Yeager, who has not had much time to watch football between work, school and raising a family of soon to be five girls with his wife, is very excited for the game.

"It's kind of like getting to go to the Daytona 500," said Yeager. "You don't have to watch the race all the time to know it's a really big deal and to be excited by all of the energy around you."

And perhaps the Huskies learned about a new type of energy this week.

"From the bottom of our hearts we want to give them a big thank you," Pasqualoni said.

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