COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - On Friday, a battalion of soldiers from the South Carolina Army National Guard stepped back on South Carolina soil after a yearlong deployment in Iraq.
One of the soldiers of the 118th Infantry Regiment, Specialist Douglas Long, received a special welcome from his family and the president of Midlands Technical College at the Columbia Metropolitan Airport today after stepping off the plane.
In addition to serving and protecting our country overseas, Long spent the last year taking classes to finish his degree at Midlands Technical College. On Friday, in addition to seeing his fiancée and family for the first time in nearly a year, he had another big surprise waiting for him at the airport - his diploma. The reuniting was the moment Long’s family says they’ve been counting down to for nearly a year.
“We would say, ‘Just get through one more Sunday,’ then one more Sunday,” Carolann Addison, Douglas’s fiancée, said.
Douglas’ mother, Mary Wright, added that seeing him on Friday was like seeing him the first time he was born.
“The adrenaline and the love that you have for a human being, and you’re proud, and your excited,” Wright said.
Long’s final steps towards his family were also his final steps toward another big goal he’s been working toward his degree, as Midlands Technical College President Dr. Ronald Rhames stood behind Douglas’ family with his diploma in hand.
“I told myself I need to finish this before I get back,” Long said.
Long took five classes this spring to complete his degree in construction management and business.
“That is an extraordinary achievement,” Rhames said.
However, Long said reaching this goal didn’t come without its challenges.
“A lot of it is just staying up studying,” Long said.
He said part of the difficulty was working around spotty service overseas.
“You’re lucky enough to get your phone calls. So, you have to time your tests accordingly. I know there was many a nights where I would wait until 2-3 in the morning to take an exam because I knew the bandwidth would be overloaded,” Long said.
His dedication is something Major General Roy Van McCarty commended.
“When we send soldiers off to do the nation’s business, we also ask them to do things that will improve themselves,” McCarty said.
It’s an accomplishment his family said they are even more proud of.
“It’s not even my accomplishment; it’s watching someone else grow that you’ve watched grow from infancy and you really watch your child excel, and that’s what every mom’s joy is, ultimately, is to see her child do great things,” Wright said.
Long said his battalion and teachers worked with him to help him reach his goal, and he’s excited to get to work. Long and his fiancée say they’re excited to also start planning a wedding, and they hope to get married by the end of this year.
The president of Midlands Technical College, Dr. Ronald Rhames said they’ve had a partnership with the South Carolina Army National Guard for decades, and they want to continue helping soldiers receive their degrees while serving or afterward.