Brandon Liesenfelt heard the pop, then looked behind and saw an explosion about 400 yards away. That happened more than three years ago, when he was patrolling the streets of Fallujah as a corporal in the U.S. Marines.
Today, he's logging onto computers in the quietude of the new Veterans Center at Vanguard University of Southern California. Liesenfelt, a Georgia native, hopes to earn a bachelor's in business administration from the Christian university in Costa Mesa.
His tuition is virtually free, thanks to the G.I. Bill drawn up by former President George W. Bush because, as Liesenfelt put it, "The president knew we were going to be going where the heat was."
For a period of 36 months, Liesenfelt said, he's entitled to $2,152 a month in rent and just over $3,000 a year per semester, or $387 per credit unit.
"The rent is based on the ZIP code," says Liesenfelt, who also receives $770 a month in disability payments for suffering a possible slipped disk, and for having caught pneumonia while a Marine, an affliction that left him with him scar tissue to the lungs, affecting his breathing.