As Americans from coast to coast celebrate the 4th of July today, WMU-Cooley Law School salutes all the active duty, reserve, and retired military personnel who have given so much so that we may continue to enjoy the freedoms that are a hallmark of our country.
Many WMU-Cooley students and alumni are, or have been, affiliated with the military. One such graduate, Zaneta Adams (Todd Class, 2014), is notable not only for her service to our country but for the many lives she’s touched along the way and the perseverance she continues to demonstrate in her quest to make the world a better place for us all.
Last year, Adams formed the group Women Injured in Combat, or WINC. The group seeks to provide care and support for, and awareness of, the nearly two million female military and combat veterans in the United States. Last week, WINC launched a campaign called “2 Million Strong and Rising” to increase awareness of the role of women in the military.
Adams comes by her knowledge first-hand. She is a disabled U.S. Army veteran, having joined the Army Reserves in 1998 and served actively until 2004. In 2005, while on the inactive reserve list, she was summoned back to active duty and began preparation for Operation Iraqi Freedom. During that preparation, however, tragedy struck when Adams fell 11 feet from the back of a truck and paralyzed a nerve in her back.
She spent a year in a wheel chair. “It was difficult,” she recalled. “I couldn’t take a shower or get out of bed by myself. I couldn’t even pick up my children. I no longer felt like myself.” After two major surgeries, Adams was able to discard her wheelchair and use a cane. Though she had reclaimed most of her mobility, she still had to deal with the partial loss of sensation in her legs.
Adams struggled during those days. “A lot of it was mental,” she said. “As a woman, you want to feel attractive, and I was unsure of myself with the cane.”
Her attendance at an athletic competition for wounded veterans changed all that. “I saw people out there who were missing limbs and they were doing amazing things,” she said. “I told myself, ‘I may not have full use of my body, but I could probably do some of these things.’ I started participating in athletic events and eventually was able to find the strength to walk on my own again.”
In the fall of 2011, Adams found a new way to help others and began her studies at WMU-Cooley Law School. “I have always been interested in the enforcement of law,” she said. “In high school, I was on the mock trial team and I loved it. But with my family, the military and my injuries, the dream of going to law school kind of disappeared.”
However, after joining with Challenge Aspen, an organization that provides recreational, educational and cultural experiences for individuals with disabilities, Adams began to find a new lease on life. “I began to recruit veterans for Challenge’s retreats,” she said. “The organization offers unique rehabilitation opportunities like skiing and snowboarding – the types of events that help people like me feel normal again.”
Through Challenge Aspen came opportunities from Challenge America and the Department of Defense, including writing a blog about her personal experiences as a wounded veteran for Challenge America, serving as a spokesperson for the organization, and reviewing for the Department of Defense Peer-Reviewed Orthopaedic Research Program proposals that would affect severely wounded service members and help determine if they should be applied to the military.
Adams’ commitment to these programs and to her fellow veterans reignited the passion she had to attend law school. “There are lawyers who deal with veterans’ rights and benefits, and a lot of people want to help,” she said. “But if they have not served or do not have first-hand knowledge, they don’t truly know what we go through. I had to personally fight for my benefits and it was hard. . . . I want to be the lawyer veterans can look to for relief.”
While at WMU-Cooley, Adams won the Distinguished Student Award and the Student Great Deeds Award. She served as president of the Cooley Veterans Corps, with an agenda of starting a pro bono program to assist veterans on a monthly basis at the local Veterans Administration office. She also worked on learning how to start a Veteran’s Court in Kent County. She was also instrumental in establishing a Veterans Day Program at WMU-Cooley, including a luncheon attended by homeless veterans, members of the legislature, and others, all showing support and appreciation for military service and those who serve our veterans.
Adams was also president of the Black Law Students Association at WMU-Cooley’s Grand Rapids campus, served as a graduate assistant in the Academic Resource Center, a Cooley Ambassador, and a Graduation Marshal. She participated on the Mock Trial Board, and in the national trial, mock trial, and moot court competitions, winning a First-Year Mock Trial Competition.
Shortly after graduation from WMU-Cooley, Adams demonstrated the diversity of her talents with a performance in the Veteran Talent Showcase at the Detroit Regional Chamber’s annual Mackinac Policy Conference. Prior to the showcase, Adams and several other veterans were honored during the conference by Michigan Governor Rick Snyder. Adams utilizes her talents as a singer and songwriter to raise awareness of the needs of our nation’s returning service men and women. In 2010, she traveled throughout the county as a representative of the Wounded Warrior Project, singing the National Anthem. She has also opened live concerts, and recorded with Grammy Award winners Amy Grant, Vince Gill, Charlie Daniels and Gretchen Wilson.
Adams and her husband Joe have six children, and live in Muskegon, Mich.