AFGHANISTAN - Capt. Ted Dunham, a Grayson, Ga., native and reserve officer training corps instructor at Georgia Gwinnett College in Lawrenceville, Ga., left the comfort of the classroom last month for the fast-paced learning environment in Afghanistan to lead nearly 200 soldiers from the Georgia National Guard’s, 179th Military Police Company.
The military policemen are part of Texas Army National Guard’s Task Force Centurion. A handful of the soldiers are Dunham’s student-cadets, who also decided to leave behind the college scene in exchange for 12-hour shifts protecting coalition forces and helping to make sure future success for United States and Afghanistan relations.
“College is important to me and I plan to go back,” said Sgt. Dawn Shoemake with the 179th MP Company. “But this deployment is very important and part of being a soldier. That’s why I am here. I will finish college when I get back."
The unit commander knows from experience how valuable deploying prior to accepting an officer's commission can be.
“I deployed in the middle of my sophomore year in college. When I returned, I finished ROTC,” Dunham said. “I think these soldiers will gain an advantage when they return. They will likely see college differently. I know I did when I returned from a previous deployment. I had a better understanding of the value and worked a lot harder.”
Fortunately for Dunham, it wasn’t difficult to convince his students to drop their backpacks and pick up their rucksacks to join him during the deployment. They all recognized the benefits outweighed the drawbacks, including Spc. Shon Grady, who’s not in the ROTC program but still withdrew from the college after two years of studying criminal justice.
“I have been in the unit three years. I knew going in that I would deploy someday,” Grady said.
Grady, a married soldier with two children is an atypical college student when compared to the 20-something-year-olds who fill the campus at Georgia Gwinnet College. Although he wasn’t looking to have his life up heaved by a nine-month deployment, he found during his first 30 days here that life is more regimented than at home.
“Balancing school, work, National Guard weekend duties, and my family wasn’t routine,” Grady said. “Daily life here is more predictable.”
National Guard soldiers rely on their community, family and employers during the deployment process and understand they all make sacrifices along with the troops.
Some of the soldier’s sacrifices recently paid off when they received the 136th MEB combat patches during an official ceremony on Veterans Day.
“Earning my patch is great and getting it on Veterans Day signifies all the sacrifices I have made for my country and family. It makes me think of all the sacrifices of all the soldiers before me,” Shoemake said. “My grandfather’s generation was all in the military and I am a part of that now.”