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It had been 14 years since a landmine exploded next to him in Iraq, but war still stuck with Dan Schroeder — nearly ruining him before, in time, he lifted himself up.

The Springfield, Minn., man had been studying at Oklahoma State University in the early 1990s, but when he realized he didn't have any direction, he joined the Army. Always a tinkerer, he became a systems mechanic on Bradley Fighting Vehicles, similar to small tanks. He was sent all over: Germany and Ft. Hood, Macedonia and Kuwait, South Korea and then, in the early days of the war, Iraq.

His unit was sent to Al-Qa'im near the Syrian border, "the wild, wild west," as Schroeder puts it. At the end of summer 2003, he was called to recover a Bradley Fighting Vehicle damaged by a landmine. Then he heard the metallic click of a fuse, followed by the biggest explosion he'd ever heard: another landmine. Debris and shrapnel peppered Schroeder's legs, and his armored vest broke in two. Somehow, though seven soldiers were injured, no one died.

He left the Army the next year with a Purple Heart. He had surgery on his leg. Post-traumatic stress disorder sent him down a dark path. Eventually, he landed in a steady job driving trucks. But the blast wave had caused a traumatic brain injury, and for years he'd have occasional small seizures. In 2017 he had a grand mal seizure, which meant losing his truck-driving license.

What next?

"I was about this close from killing myself," he said. "Most of the time you don't know how screwed up you are. You hear it enough times, and you start to believe it. I didn't have a job, nobody would hire me, I didn't know what to do."

When a vocational rehabilitation counselor suggested he go back to school, Schroeder's first reaction was, "What the hell is a 44-year-old going back to school for?" But then it started to make sense. He studied electrical engineering at Minnesota State University-Mankato. It took five years, but in May, at age 49 — married, with a son, a daughter and a granddaughter — he walked at graduation. With a 3.25 grade point average.

It's one thing to get a degree, and another to land the perfect job. Schroeder worked with Kelly Miller, a Twin Cities-based career coach with the Wounded Warrior Project's Warriors to Work program, which helps post-9/11 veterans transition to civilian careers. The free program annually helps thousands of wounded veterans and their family members start new careers. Miller taught Schroeder how to present himself to an employer. They worked on his resume, interview skills, and how to translate military jargon into layman's terms.

During his final semester of school, he accepted a job at NASCENTechnology in Watertown, S.D. When the offer came, Schroeder and Miller screamed like little kids.

"Dan's a perfect example that it's never too late," Miller said. "Age 49 is way sooner than everyone else who never got there."

He has an apartment in Watertown during the week and returns to Minnesota on weekends.

"I still have a hard time believing what I've done," he said. "There have been days where I'm like, 'Holy [cow], I'm an engineer!' But everything in our lives leads up to point where we are today. You can have regrets. You can wish things didn't happen. But you'll never be where you are if you didn't go through what you went through."