For Michelle Werner, everything leading up to her time at Columbia College was a privilege. Starting in 1992, at age 20, Werner served for eight years in the Army as a ground and flight medic. During her years of service, she worked with civilian rescuers, helping in traffic accidents, search and rescue missions and field operations.
“I am an adrenaline junkie,” she says.
After leaving the Army in 2000 on medical retirement because of seizures, Werner went to work for the Missile Defense Agency in Washington, D.C. There, she worked with rocket scientists, using computers to estimate and plot missile trajectories.
“I couldn’t use the excuse, ‘It’s not rocket science,’ ” Werner says.
She had the opportunity to put her trauma training and experience to use when she gave first aid to Pentagon workers as they emerged from the rubble on Sept. 11. The building she worked in was a quarter mile away.
“The whole building shook. I just knew something was very wrong,” Werner said. “I will never forget a woman running down the hall screaming, ‘They hit the Pentagon.’ Then the alarms went off, and we were locked down.”
Several minutes after the plane crashed into the Pentagon, everyone was evacuated to a parking lot overlooking the chaos.
“I ended up going down to the Pentagon to give medical aid to the workers,” Werner says.
Werner lost three colleagues in the attack, which prompted her to work at night — in addition to her day job — to provide assistance with forms for the families of the workers who did survive the attack.
Now 32, Werner is a senior at Columbia College, dual-majoring in forensic science and biology. She hopes to get an internship with the FBI as a forensic scientist helping solve crimes. Werner plans to graduate in May 2006.
“Columbia College is allowing me to get the degree I need to start a career,” she says.