Rachel Donnatien Sets Example for Her Family through Caregiving—and Now Pursuit of a College Degree
Trevor Donnatien had already left the Army by the time he met Rachel. The man she describes as “the rock of our family” embraced her two children when they married, and together the couple has a 7-month-old girl and another child on the way.
When they married in 2019, he had been out of the military since 2012—after 11 years of service—and, at 40, was a “fit guy with a healthy, calm disposition.”What wasn’t apparent was the trauma—physical and mental—that he carried from his experience as a servicemember. Prior to meeting Trevor, Rachel said she had never really been close with anyone in the military, so she had no idea what a toll combat had on a veteran.
Trevor’s service had included deployment to Iraq in 2003. During a convoy, his vehicle was hit by an improvised explosive device (IED). However, instead of seeking help immediately after the explosion, he didn’t complain. He continued on through a tour to Afghanistan.
Trevor retired on 100 percent military disability. He had his hip replaced and suffered from multiple injuries to his legs, knees, feet and lower back. Today, he advises everyone to report a problem as soon as it occurs, Rachel said.
When the couple met, Trevor was in the process of getting the hip surgery, but he didn’t share that with Rachel at first because that’s not how you impress a girl on a first date, he had said to her.
“Over time, I learned all of the things he was dealing with,” she said.
“He has a lot of pride, and he tries to conceal his pain,” she added. “But there are a lot of things he physically can’t do without consequences. If he tries, it can cause flare-ups and sometimes triggers his PTSD.”
Trevor’s nightmares, night sweats and insomnia keep Rachel awake, too, as she tries to comfort him. He can startle into a panic attack at any time. The baby’s crying can spark his PTSD.
“Being the spouse of a veteran is not always easy,” Rachel said. “It is, at times, selfless and exhausting. You need a lot of patience and understanding. There’s a level of giving up care for yourself to care for another. But that’s a sacrifice I find well worth it for such a good person.”
Rachel has no college education. After high school she went to school for cosmetology and worked in the beauty industry for many years. That led to a passion for event planning. Until recently, she worked for a homeowners’ association management company as a lifestyle director planning events and activities.
Now that she has become a Pillars of Strength Scholarship winner, Rachel can pursue a degree in marketing at University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) while being home with her children and supporting her family. She chose UMGC because it is a reputable, military-friendly school that offers the option of 100 percent online learning.
Her husband is working full time with the Department of Defense as a chemical engineer technician supervisor. It’s a desk job he can handle, although it does require travel. He is also working on his master’s degree.
Rachel had thought for a long time about going to college, but the timing never seemed right. Since she wants her 18-year-old daughter to have the college opportunity she missed, Rachel was looking for scholarships to help pay for her own education. Michael English, a UMGC military education coordinator, told her about the Pillars of Strength opportunity.
“I was in shock,” she said when she got the call offering her the scholarship. “I just felt like the luckiest person in the world. It’s amazing they have such a niche scholarship opportunity.”