Tony Drees, a former Grand Forks resident and Purple Heart recipient who suffered serious injuries during the Persian Gulf War in 1991, is featured in a University of Phoenix scholarship program that will launch tonight during the annual NAACP Image Awards program on the TVOne network.
Drees, who has a bachelor's degree in business management and a master's degree in management from the Phoenix school, advanced from a sales representative to an upper level management position at a large Denver-area automobile dealership while pursuing his degrees.
Drees is one of eight African-American alumni featured in the University of Phoenix videos that are part of the school's "Road to Success" national commercial promotion, which is debuting at tonights event. The videos' common theme is how their families feel about their academic achievements.
The Road to Success Scholarship program, which offers 40 full-tuition scholarships to complete a bachelor's or master's degree at University of Phoenix in the fields of education, health care and criminal justice and security fields.
"Every single one of my kids talk about when they go to college. That hasn't been a generational thing for me," Drees says in one version of the video. "As a kid, I thought I would always go into the military. All of my kids are on the honor roll or in advanced classes. I know I've had an effect on that."
Today, retired Army Spc. Tony Drees is CEO of Tony Drees Life Coach.
Drees, who was born on an Air Force Base in Ohio, was raised by a dysfunctional family that he described as "pretty rough going," that eventually had him spending some time living in a boys home.
Grand Forks to the Gulf
When he was 13, he entered a foster care program, moving in with the family of John and Vivian Drees of Grand Forks. After graduating from Red River High School, he entered the military.
He was an Army private in February 1991, when he arrived in Saudi Arabia as part of the coalition to drive Iraqi forces out of Kuwait.
"We were truck drivers," said Drees, then a 23-year-old Army private. "Our job was to take fuel to the front lines. Every day we thought we had a mission, and every day it fell through."
He had been there only about a week when a SCUD missile struck their barracks, killing
28 service members and wounding 98 more. It was the single greatest loss of American life in the Persian Gulf War.
Shrapnel struck him in the right thigh, shattering his femur and blowing the backs off both legs, he said. He nearly lost his right leg. Instead, he underwent 58 surgeries over the next year, plus rigorous physical therapy at Reed Army Medical Center.
But he left school and moved to the Denver area, where he found work as a car salesman.
With a full-time job and four children, he enrolled in University of Phoenix, which offers online program, completing his bachelor's and master's degrees.
As a life coach, Drees currently is developing a nonprofit organization to support veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder and their families.
"I know the struggles, but I also know the rewards, and I want to share that," he said.
He also is launching the Academy for Black Success, which he describes as an affordable leadership program for African-Americans..
"I've been successful and I've been fortunate," he said in a telephone interview. "It's time to give back."
The 46th NAACP Image Awards will be broadcast at 8 p.m. CST today on the TVOne network. TVOne is available on some packages of area cable and satellite TV systems, including Midcontinent Communications (Channel 129); DirecTV, (Channel 328); and Dish Network (Channel 678).
For more information about the Road to Success Scholarship program visit www.phoenix.edu/scholarships.