Alex Perkins - Graduate

May 10, 2011
Alex Perkins
Alex Perkins - Graduate

Despite the fact that Alex Perkins had been accepted to college, his high school guidance counselor encouraged him to join the military. "The pitch was 'We never go to war,'" Perkins recalls.

At 18, Perkins was ready to leave the subdivisions of suburban Milwaukee behind. He had been accepted to college and was considering a career in international civil rights law, but the Army called to the idealistic young man. "It just seemed like a good place to start helping disenfranchised people who couldn't help themselves." As Perkins saw it, American soldiers were "first-hand diplomats."

So it was that Perkins left for the Army Reserves. A week before he finished basic training, the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 inspired Perkins to volunteer for active duty. Less than two years later he was doing field supply work, mostly transporting fuel to American fire bases in Afghanistan.

Perkins's idealism quickly ran into language gaps and bureaucracy. "I had this image of G.I. Joe going out there and helping people, but there were a lot of hurdles."

With two months left, Perkins's tour of duty in Afghanistan came to screeching halt. He was riding in a Humvee with three comrades when a Humvee full of six soldiers hit an explosive device and flipped back onto Perkins's vehicle. Perkins was the only one to survive.

Laid up for seven months with a fractures disk in his back, Perkins was wracked with guilt and confusion over why he had been spared. After receiving a medical discharge, he moved to New York City to "get lost for a while" and to study philosophy and applied ethics at Brooklyn College. "I was just looking for answers."

In the months that followed, Perkins lived in a succession of rough New York neighborhoods from Bedford Stuyvesant to East New York. He tutored children and took a writer's workshop while finishing his degree. He also met a woman who would become his fiancé.

During an internship with New York Senator Hillary Clinton, Perkins learned of the Wounded Warrior Program. As it turned out, the Sergeant at Arms of the House of Representatives needed someone with emergency situations experience to work on disaster preparedness issues. Perkins fit the bill.

As a fellow with the Wounded Warrior Program, Perkins briefed House member offices on how to prepare for disasters ranging from storms to terrorism. 

Perkins completed his fellowship in September 2012 and returned to school full time.