Brandon Schantzer - Graduate

May 11, 2011
Fellows Brandon Schantzer and Bradley Herron
Brandon Schantzer - Graduate

Growing up, Brandon Schantzer thought of himself as a "Two Streeter." That was the label people carried on Schantzer's street – Second Street – in South Philadelphia. It was an identity tied up with the area's rough reputation.

But labels signify little, Schantzer learned when, at age 12, he moved from the inner city to a suburban New Jersey town. "It was a big shift," Schantzer recalls. "I had to adapt. It was a smaller world."

Schantzer got through his suburban teenage years "with no bumps," but longed for a drastically different experience. "I decided I had to do something with my life," he says. So, with thoughts of his grandfather time as a tank mechanic stationed in Ireland during World War II, Schantzer enlisted in the Army. "I was just interested in travelling and finding a little adventure."

After spending two years in South Korea, Schantzer was deployed as a minefield demolition expert for the 2003 invasion of Iraq. In the days after the invasion, Schantzer's focus turned to patrols, convoy security and general policing operations. From his spot in the gun turret of a Humvee, Schantzer looked out on an alien land of wide-open desert often silent except for daily calls to prayer. The smell of oil and open trash pits and sewers seemed to be everywhere.

The relative quietude was shattered when Schantzer's convoy came under attack one day. Schantzer was shot in the ankle, but adrenaline clouded his perception. "I didn't even know I was hit until later in the night," he remembers. A few months later, an explosive device went off below Schantzer's Humvee. When Schantzer jumped out of the turret, he landed painfully, bruising discs in his spine.

Then, toward the end of his first tour, as he was searching a mansion in Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit, Schantzer was injured again during hand-to-hand combat. An insurgent had tackled Schantzer through a window. Both men fell about 10 feet. Although Schantzer's comrades quickly detained the insurgent, Schantzer was left with a gash in his wrist that required 16 stitches. "Those Iraqi dudes are pretty scrappy," Schantzer says with typical understatement.

A second tour in Iraq went by without major incident or injury for Schantzer. After leaving the Army in 2006, Schantzer looked for a way to server veterans. He took a job in Philadelphia as a cemetery groundskeeper and funeral arranger with the Veterans Administration. After a while though, the job became too much for Schantzer to bear. He wanted something more uplifting. An internet search led him to the Wounded Warrior Program.

As a veterans case worker in the New Jersey district office of Rep. Robert E. Andrews, Schantzer felt he was making a meaningful contribution to other veterans while furthering his career interests. Schantzer says the label of Wounded Warrior Program Fellow was one he was proud to wear.

In August 2011, Schantzer accepted a position as a quality assurance trainee with the Defense Contract Management Agency.