Face of Defense: Soldier Earns Degree 20 Years After High School
By Army Sgt. Marc Loi
319th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan, May 8, 2012 It had all the makings of the typical college graduation, but a few things were different.
Twenty years after his high school graduation, Army Sgt. 1st Class Joshua Moon graduated with an associate of science degree from Motlow State Community College while deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Marc Loi
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Army Sgt. 1st Class Joshua Moon had earned the right to give a speech as an honor graduate, but when he began to thank the people who made his graduation possible, a fighter jet roared overhead, drowning out his voice as he stopped and wiped away a tear.
The graduation cap he tossed into the air to celebrate an academic milestone traveled only two feet, hitting the ceiling and falling to the floor. Loved ones who had gathered to help him celebrate were some 6,000 miles away and appeared only on Skype.
Such is a nontraditional graduation for a nontraditional student. Deployed here in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, the Army reservist with Army Acquisition Command graduated May 3 from Motlow State Community College in the middle of a war zone, nearly 20 years after his high school graduation.
“Life just got in the way,” said Moon, of Beech Grove, Tenn. “I did three years of active duty right out of high school and went back home and started working, just like anyone else. We got married and had a child right away, so education was put on the back burner. I just worked a normal job like everyone else to make ends meet and pay the bills.”
Two stints in Iraq and his latest here, along with a year and a half as a trainer at Fort Benning, Ga., also got in the way of Moon’s education. Getting educated was always a proposition that gnawed at him, he said, not only because he wanted to prove to others he could do it, but also to set the example for his children.
“We’re trying to set good examples for the kids – hopefully we’ll encourage them to attend college after high school,” he said. “There was [also] a sense of not fitting in. My good friends went straight to college and ended up having successful careers. In a way, I was envious of that, but I also wanted to prove to myself that I could do it, to overcome my own doubts.”
Although he was eligible for the Montgomery and Post 9/11 GI Bills -- the latter would have paid for his entire education plus monthly living allowances -- Moon transferred the benefits to his wife, who will earn her teaching degree later this month.
Left without his own benefits and thrust onto active duty, Moon used the tuition assistance program the military offers active duty soldiers. With help from military education counselors and a host of tests that allowed him to bypass some core classes, Moon finally got to work on his academic pursuits – something he first found difficult because of how long he’d been removed from academia.
“It was definitely a challenge at first,” he said. “Once I got the basics of it, everything was OK. My instructors said it’s also a lot easier for older students, because they have the drive and it’s what they want to do.”
With his associate of science degree complete, Moon now plans to attend a university once his deployment is over to finish his academic career. Although he will have had a family and career before finishing college, such a nonlinear progression doesn’t faze him, he said.
“It’s easy to get wrapped up around what society deems acceptable,” he said. “Growing up, I always had an idea of what I wanted. It was getting married, having kids and having a house. College finally came there in the middle somewhere.”
Although his commitment will benefit his family and his civilian career, education also will help Moon advance in his military career, he said.
“The Army is pushing education, and if you want better opportunities, you have to get an education,” he said.
This, added Moon, applies not only to younger soldiers just starting their military careers, but also to older ones looking to finish an education they intended to get, but never got the opportunity to do so.
“To the young guys, if you want to stay in and advance in your career, education is the way to go,” he said. “To the older guys, it’s never too late.”
Just soldiers get the opportunity each day to improve themselves in the military, Moon said, they also MUST do the same in academia when the chance presents itself.
“Seize the day,” he said. “Take control of your life and do the right thing.”