JPO Robotics Soldier graduates via Skype
May 10, 2012
KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan -- It had all the makings of the typical college graduation. There was the speech Sgt. 1st Class Joshua Moon had earned the right to give as an honor graduation, 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. There was the graduation cap that he'd tossed in the air to celebrate an academic milestone, only to have it travel two feet, hit the ceiling and fall to the ground. There were loved ones who'd gathered around to help him celebrate, except they were some 6,000 miles away and only appeared on Skype.
Such is a non-traditional graduation for a non-traditional student. Deployed here in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, the Army Reservist with Army Acquisition Command graduated from Motlow State Community College, May 3, 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," he continued.
Between being a father and husband, there were also the deployments -- two stints in Iraq and his latest here, along with 1.5 years as a trainer at Fort Benning, Ga. Despite all the responsibilities and his military successes, Moon said getting educated was always a proposition that gnawed at him -- 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 G.I. Bills -- the latter would have paid for his entire education plus monthly living allowances, Moon passed the benefits onto 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 got to work on his academic career in the middle of a war zone -- something he first found difficult because of how long he'd been removed from academia, Moon said.
"It was definitely a challenge at first," he said. "Once I got the basics of it, everything was okay. 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 Associates of Science degree complete, Moon now plans to attend a university once his deployment is over and finishing his academic career. Although he will already have a family and career before finishing college, such a non-linear 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 ultimately benefit his family and civilian career, such an education will also help Moon advance 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, not only applies for younger soldiers just starting their military careers, but also 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."
Much like with the military, academia is an opportunity to improve oneself, and just as just soldiers get the opportunity each day to improve themselves in the military, Moon said they must also do the same in academia when the chance presents itself.
"Seize the day … take control of your life and do the right thing," he said.