Ever since the start of the War on Terror, enlisted soldiers in the active Army, reserves and National Guard live knowing there is a very good chance they might be deployed to some far off land to fight.
Adam Roelse, a Central Michigan University student, rugby player and National Guard soldier in Michigan’s 1461st Transportation Company, never expected to go to college, only to leave for Afghanistan and come back to college as if nothing happened.
“I got called up shortly after my first semester here. This is only my second (as a student),” Roelse said. “Deploying didn’t bother me. I knew it was going to happen eventually.”
The 21-year-old joined the National Guard in 2010, shortly after earning his high school diploma. He signed up to help pay for college and to uphold family tradition.
“My uncle was in the Marines and my dad was in the Navy. I figured, ‘Why not mix it up and join the Army?’” Roelse said.
While in Afghanistan, Roelse drove Heavy Equipment Transports, extremely large and powerful trucks used to move enormous equipment such as tanks and artillery up and down Afghanistan, logging more than 200,000 miles during his deployment.
After his deployment was over, Roelse returned home to continue his college education, hoping to use the education benefits he earned while deployed.
Unfortunately, Roelse fell four days short of receiving full benefits for his time deployed.
“The law was written (for education benefits) to make it fair for all our service members who have (been) deployed,” Steve Rellinger, director of the Veterans’ Resource Center, said. “It’s sad whenever you hear about something like that happening, but it happens sometimes.”
Returning back to school was relatively smooth for Roelse, as he was also returning to his friends and his other passion in life – rugby.
“I love rugby. I’ve been playing since high school,” Roelse said.
Roelse plays on CMU’s intramural rugby team with some of his old friends from high school who now also attend CMU. He joined the team during his first semester, before being deployed.
“It was weird seeing him go. I talked to him all the time when he was in Afghanistan,” said rugby teammate Sagar Sharma, a Grandville senior. “There were times when I didn’t hear from him for a few weeks and I would get worried. I just had to hope he was alright. It was a relief when he finally came back.”
Sharma and Roelse have been friends since their freshman year of high school where they played rugby together.
Brighton senior Cory Mueller didn’t go to the same school as Roelse, but has also known him since high school.
“I met him when my high school played against his,” Mueller said. “It was rough seeing him go. We didn’t know what would happen to him over there. We’re really happy to see him come back.”
Upon Roelse’s return from Afghanistan, Mueller and some of his friends hopped into a car and drove all night to surprise Roelse at his welcome home party.
“I knew (Roelse) briefly before he left for Afghanistan,” said teammate Peter Ruggirello and Clinton Township senior. “We’re really glad to see him come back. I can’t imagine what he went through over there. He’s a great guy, knows the game, and people love to be around him.”
The time Roelse spent deployed took its toll on his progress at CMU. As he served his time in the mountains of Afghanistan, his friends and classmates continued on their college path, while Roelse’s academic career was put on hold.
“I’m 21 in all these freshman classes that I would have completed a year ago. It’s a little awkward, but not all that bad. Honestly, I didn’t even know if I was coming back to school,” Roelse said.
Students in the National Guard are citizen soldiers who live knowing that they can be deployed at any time, sometimes causing a burden on their lives or academic progress.
Roelse might not have wanted to miss the handful of credit hours he could have completed or a couple of rugby matches that went on without him, but duty called.
Given the choice of staying in classes or having to deploy again, he says he would gladly accept the latter.
“Deploying kind of sucked, but I wouldn’t mind being deployed again,” he said.