Hard to fathom that just the other day I finally turned in my final writing to obtain my Bachelor’s Degree. Like most things I wasn’t overly excited, just happy that another chapter has been finished in my life. This one is one of the longest that I have experienced though. I began taking some form of college classes back in 2000. Yes 17 years ago. I had a few interruptions along the way so don’t judge me, I’ll explain in a minute. The process began like everyone else’s, yet would have some familiar and unfamiliar interruptions along the path. The end would be quiet and uneventful. The journey has been long, yet satisfying, I do plan on continuing my education to get a Master’s Degree, but that is like bonus points at this point.
After barely graduating high school I decided to take a year off from attending school to go out and see what it was like to be an adult for a little while. You know get a job, make some money, have a good time, run wild, you know like adults do, or at least that’s what the perception was right. Yeah I was wrong, being and adult sucked and sucked quickly. Oh why is that you may ask, it’s because I barley passed high school, at a public high school that offered no actual trade skills, or any skills at that. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t blame the school, it wasn’t like I was paying enough attention to understand if anything fruitful was being taught anyway. Although I did enjoy working and making money, you quickly realize that you need additional skills to get somewhere in life. So I decided after about year that I would start taking classes at the local community college.
Now the memories are going to be slightly shaky in some areas for a couple of reasons, one being that I have drank a lot since then, I mean a lot, like way more than you’re should. Secondly it was 17 years ago. One of the first things that you had to do before taking any real classes back then was take a test that would assess your educational level. I would like to say that arrogance is a funny thing, I went into the test thinking, I am going smoke this shit, and needless to say I didn’t. My first semester was spent retaking classes that I should have passed in high school, or maybe junior high. Probably more junior high then anything. Whatever I had a lot fun in high school. Once I got through a semester of child level education, I was able to focus on degree oriented classes, I had chosen Criminal Justice as my degree field for two reasons. One I figured there would be little math involved, and secondly I really liked reading about true crime, and how people actually reacted in society. Sociology probably would have been better, but I really enjoyed Criminal Justice.
This continued for almost a year when I realized that holy shit this is difficult. The school work wasn’t that bad, I really did enjoy it, and was doing really well. The environment was different, especially that you were finally being treated as an adult. I also think that because I was paying for everything on my own, it affected me more, you know a little more ownership in my work. Things change when you’re paying for it. I was doing two things going to school fulltime, and working fulltime. This is hell, and if anyone else reading this has done this, god bless you that shit wears you out. Not to mention screw having a social life, hahahahahahaha social life. So I realized that I was going broke, working my ass off, gaining debt from school, and not having a very good time. So what better way to solve all these problems then to join the Army
So after having a good weekend of drinking, DP Killa and I were driving around thinking of more shit to get into. At some point during this drive DP has and epiphany. He decides that he is going to join the National Guard right then and there. Very spur of the moment, which is his kinda thing. I didn’t really think too much of it so I said I would go with him and talk to the recruiter as well. Well hell after a few minutes of talking to these guys I realized I could solve some real problems here, I could get my college paid for, stay in Delaware, and learn me some things. So we signed up, hell yeah real American heroes. What couldn’t be predicted is that the world would be sent into war that would last more than ten years. I’ll include those in some interruptions later down the road. At this point it is spring 2001, and by the start of the fall semester I pulled out of school to focus on leaving for basic training and initial entry training in January of 2002.
I left for basic training in January of 2002, the world was different but my goals stayed the same, I wanted to complete this training get back home and pick up where I left off. About a month out from completing my training I began to realign my focus and debating whether I was going to stick with the same degree plan or change it. I was nearly qualified to be a Military Police Officer so I kept my focus on my degree plan and stayed with criminal justice, maybe come home and be cop one day. This was in April of 2002, well just a couple weeks later I would get a phone call that my unite back home would be going overseas, wait, what, fuck this blows.
I got home from basic training and initial entry training in May of 2002, by August I was in New Jersey preparing to leave for Saudi Arabia for a six month tour. Okay I can handle that. We left in September for Saudi Arabia where I would spend most of days working about 14 hours a day searching cars for bombs in what felt like a thousand degrees each day. We were far enough from the war in Afghanistan that there was minimal threat to use, yet still a threat. Fall and winter would come and go, not there, but back home, and February was quickly approaching and we all began to think about coming home. Exciting times that wouldn’t last. We had been extended for three months because America was going to invade Iraq, and in March of 2003 that is exactly what they did. By May of that year we were home and I had met the love of my life. Things were looking good and I would soon start taking classes again in the fall of 2003.
A lot had changed for me since returning home in the spring, I was dating the women I knew I would spend the rest of my life with, we moved in together, I had an awesome social life, I was working, and started taking some classes again. This again was difficult, I couldn’t really fill my schedule with too many classes, I didn’t want to interrupt my new life style, and I wasn’t into school as much. I started taking business classes thinking I wanted to go in a different direction, that didn’t work, and by the spring of 2004 I was done will school.
#3 was me, all me this time, I wasn’t focused, I was enjoying life and having a great time doing it. I was thinking about finding a more career oriented job, and wanted to start looking for a more permanent residence for the girlfriend and me. That’s when DP Killa came knocking again, with a new job opportunity with the Department of Corrections. I debated for a while on this one, especially since I had started to look for a house and all. Well in the fall of 2004 we did it, we bought our first house together, not DP and me but the love of my life. After a few months of settling in I was ready to make the career change, and by spring of 2005 I was working for the department of corrections.
The money was decent and I enjoyed the work in the beginning. What you tend to find though is that you fall into a bad routine there, going to work, working as much overtime as you can handle, and going home. You don’t leave a lot of time for education if you try to maintain a healthy social life. Oh and let me tell you my social life is healthy. So what did this mean for my education, well it meant that it was on the backburner, a dying flame, I had a career now, a women I would eventually marry, and a house. Things were looking good. By the summer of 2005 I had proposed to my eventual wife. So for the next year we prepared for a wedding and in August of 2006 we were married. By this time I really had no thoughts of going back to school at all, the flame was just a pilot light at this point, a footnote if you will. By the fall of 2006 I began to realize that the small salary that I was making, wasn’t going to be enough if we truly wanted to start a family. I was going to need more, and only having 30 some credits and a couple of years of experience with the Department of Corrections really wasn’t giving me a glowing resume. So I looked at the pilot light saw that it was on and started to think about going back to school again. I knew that the army would help cover some of the costs, if not all and that was great, so that was it I would go back to school in fall of 2007. Why 07 you ask? I don’t know it was just a goal I set and figured it was a good starting point. Beside who the hell wants to go to school during the summer, I didn’t want to miss out on all that drinking and stuff. Well low and behold none of that would matter because in the spring of 2007 we got word that by the fall of 07 we would be in Iraq in support of the war.
So off I went in the fall of 2007 to Iraq. This was going to be different from Saudi Arabia because now we were in the heart of it. This was an education that can’t be taught in any classroom, if approached right a person will find out very quickly a lot of things about themselves. I spent my time in Iraq learning how to supervise of other people, how to transform myself into the person I wanted to be. I also accepted the constructive and harsh at times, criticism that I received. Just because you are weak in an area doesn’t mean you’re bad, it just means that you are weak in that area. That’s it. I learned that not focusing on the weak, but working heavily on the strong points of myself and those I worked with made for a better working environment. That place was stressful enough, adding on trying to change something about people that was not going to change would have only made it worse. I also read a lot, I loved reading and learning, which in turn made it so that I knew I would want to go back to school one day. I was more mature, and totally focused. We got back home in the spring of 2007 and was super pumped to get back to things. Oh wait, I almost forgot, when I came home on R & R in February I kinda knocked up my wife, so in the fall of 2008 I was going to be a daddy, yup that’s right another interruption
This is actually a really good interruption, a life changer though. Having a child is an amazing event every aspect, and a total life changer. I like to think of myself as a bit of a planner, and generally stick to the plan so that I know I will be ready for the outcome. Take for example that the misses and I lived together before buying a house, lived in that house together before getting married, made sure we were making enough money and had a house before talking about kids, well I’ll tell you something, you are never prepared for kids. In the fall of 2008 my first child was born and the only thing we could focus on was taking care of that child. So that’s what we did, and I quickly realized that I didn’t make enough money for this shit. So it was career time change, and I took on a new job in the spring of 2009 that would help change my educational journey for the better, and financially was a great move. Once the fall of 2009 came around I began taking Criminal Justice classes once again, this time working on it online. Yup online, I know it’s not brick and mortar but don’t be fooled, if you respect the work you’re doing and take it serious you are getting a good education just the same. Not everyone can sit in a classroom these days. So a few nights a week from the fall of 2009 until 2011 I would work on getting my Associates. I figured that if I would finish that in case there is some other interruption that comes up. So in 2011 I finished my Associates in Criminal Justice. Super happy but not satisfied. I wanted the bachelors, but that would have to wait, yeah you know it, DEPLOYMENT to AFGHANISTAN. In the spring of 2011 we got word that we would deploy in the near future either late 2012 or early 2013 to Afghanistan. My unit would spend that time preparing to leave, and at home we were doing the same thing, you prepare the family for your departure. What did that mean for my education, well it meant is was on hold once again.
In January of 2013 we would pack up and roll out to Afghanistan, my third tour overseas, by the end of this one I will have spent just a hair over two years of my life in the Mid-East. This tour would get cut a bit short, and by early fall of the same year we would be back home. By the spring of 2014 I was back at it in attending classes. I was determined to get my goal completed at this point. The only issue was that I could only take 5 classes a year using the tuition assistance I was using. I didn’t want to tap into my GI bill because I want to turn that over to my children, that way it takes some of the burden off of them. So from 2014 – 2017 I did just that and on March 21st I was finally done. All those nights spent in my office upstairs writing paper after paper, while drinking more coffee then any one man should drink I was finally done. Once I completed that last paper, I simply closed my laptop, took a deep breath, and smiled.
So I wish I had some compelling story that I could tell on why I was so driven to get a degree but I don’t. In reality I got it as a backup plan, yeah a plan B. You see I get to retire when I am 45 from the army, which means I get to receive a pension right out of the gate. That was my job change in 2009, I was lucky enough to find a job as a fulltime member in the Delaware National Guard. Well the plan is to find something that I love to do, or try something new, and if that fails well then I have the degree to fall back on. I do plan on going after a Masters in homeland security next. Why, well I am intrigued by it, the information is fascinating stuff, and I like learning about it. I also can take my time with it, the Masters is bonus education for me.
I really have to thank my wife for this. If it was not for her I don’t know if I would have ever finished. She allowed me the time to complete the work as needed. She was my anchor throughout the whole process and never once complained when it was time to lock myself away to do more school work. I think she also is more excited about me getting done as well. I don’t really show a lot of emotion when it comes to personal successes for myself. We a paly an amazing role in each other lives by encouraging each other all the time. For my daughters, (My second born in 2014), I just want them to understand that there are many paths to reach a goal, and just because the path isn’t always straight doesn’t mean you can’t get to the end. Patience, sacrifice, support, and time will get you there.