By Spc. Garett Hernandez/16th MP Bde. PAODecember 15, 2011
FORT BRAGG, N.C. - Families gathered Dec. 8, at the Fort Bragg Club to watch their sons, fathers and husbands graduate from the Air Force Combat Controller School. Present at the graduation was one man in particular who had come to celebrate his son's accomplishment and revisit his old stomping grounds.
Michael Delong, a sheriff's deputy from Palm Beach County, Fla., saw how life on the installation has changed in the 35 years since his service as a military policeman here from 1976 to 1979.
Delong entered the Army at the end of the Vietnam War in 1975. He attended basic training at Fort Jackson, S.C., and the United States Army Military Police School, Fort McClellan, Ala., before being stationed at Fort Bragg.
The Delong Family has a long history of military service, said Delong. With Delong having served in the Army as an MP and his son, Senior Airman Jared Delong, now serving in the Air Force as a Combat Controller, the Delong Family has served in every branch of the military to include the Coast Guard.
"I think it's important, not so much the tradition of it but it shows the character of the men in my Family," said Jared when talking about his Family's history of military service.
Jared recounts that when he was a young child he was fascinated by the colors and symbols of his father old dress uniform and would sometimes dress up in it for Halloween.
"I thought it was cool with his bayonet and all these cool patches that read 'airborne,' the dragon. I thought it was fun to dress up in it and walk around," said Jared.
While he enjoyed "playing Army," Jared's military service was not a foregone conclusion.
"Out of the blue sky he came to my wife and me one night and said 'I'm taking the test and I'm going to join the Air Force,'" said Delong as he tells of his son's decision.
After being a load master stationed at Moody Air Force Base, Ga. and transporting combat controllers on mission, Jared told his father of his plans to switch jobs, Delong recounts.
"I cross-trained out of my original job, which was load master, because I wanted something more," said Jared.
"He said 'that is my one goal in life, to be a combat controller,'" said Delong.
"I know some of the dangerous things he's going to do. I know it, but I don't think the rest of the Family does," Delong said.
Delong served as a military working dog handler for more than a year while serving as an MP with the 108th Military Police Company, 503rd Military Police Battalion. During his visit, the former MP made it a point to stop by the grave of his MWD, Domino, buried with other dogs at the Fort Bragg kennels.
Along with visiting the 503rd MP Bn., Delong toured post and noticed many changes. For example, the barracks he stayed in as a young, 21-year-old Soldier, on the corner of Reilly and Macomb streets, are now an education center.
Delong's driving tour was also reminiscent of his regular patrols as an MP more than three decades ago.
"It's odd to be in places and drive through the post, which I did, and see the places you got into scary situations but still came out on top," said the retired MP.
"If I hadn't had the type of training that I got from the MPs here, I would have died a long time ago," added Delong.
"They taught us a gambit of intelligent things that the average civilian cops will never see," said the deputy sheriff.
During his tour of the Sergeant First Class Wentz J.H. Shanaberger III Military Police Barracks Complex, Delong seemed impressed with the quality and professionalism of today's military police.
"From what I got out of seeing the MP brigade and the 503rd, I was home again. Those guys have not changed. You still have the dedicated, loyal, hard-working guy or girl that will put everything on the line," said Delong.
After time spent with the military police, Delong also had a chance to tour the Combat Controller School facilities on Pope Field before attending his son's graduation.
During the graduation ceremony Delong had the distinct honor of presenting his son with the red combat controller beret.
On the subject of his father presenting him the red beret, Jared said, "He has always been behind me. I thought it was important that it happen. It means the world to me. I wouldn't have it any other way."
"I'm very proud of him," said the Florida native about his son.