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Soldiering on for disabled students

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So a far-from-rich soldier musters out after a distinguished military career and immediately digs into his own pocket for $25,000 to start a scholarship for disabled students.

This philanthropist is a student in disability studies at Red River College, an ultra-marathoner and a guy who regularly jumped out of aircraft in the High Arctic and Manitoba wilderness on search and rescue missions.

"I'm not a rich person," laughed Andrew McLean. "I have a long history of advocacy. I wanted to do something that was an everlasting gift."

Most of the initial donation came from money he saved while posted in Kandahar, said McLean, who retired as a warrant officer a few months ago at age 41 because of a government-stipulated age of retirement.

He'd served in Winnipeg previously when he was parachuting into the middle of nowhere as a SARTEC, a search and rescue technician.

McLean wanted to go back to school, and other colleges told him to look up courses online. When Red River talked to him and gave McLean all the time he needed, Winnipeg it was.

"I don't really say I'm from anywhere. I went to three high schools, and graduated from Cole Harbour," though quite a few years earlier than Sidney Crosby, said McLean, who grew up in a Forces family. "I came back here because of education."

McLean saw a lot of people injured over the years, and not just in combat. While still serving, he started Soldier On, a fundraising organization to help injured soldiers.

"I wanted to do something good," McLean explained. "I wanted to continue the Soldier On movement."

Eventually, he'd like to start as many as 10 scholarships at post-secondary schools across the country, but first McLean needs to build up a large enough endowment fund here that Red River can offer students $1,000 a year.

"The first one I started was at Red River. It's for a person in school who has a disability," he said. "At Red River, it's specific to community-support programs.

"The money for these scholarships is coming out of my pocket right now. My goal is to contribute to it annually."

McLean is accepting donations to his Torchlight Foundation online.

He's studying disabilities and community support at Red River, after which he'll transfer into a joint degree program RRC conducts with the University of Winnipeg.

You can find out more about McLean's scholarship plans through canadiantorchfoundation@hotmail.ca .

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 10, 2012 B5

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