“I knew that my unit was deploying,” Edwards said. “I’ve known that since about a year ago, but I didn’t know when.”
He received word of his deployment at home three weeks ago. Edwards would be serving time in Iraq in less than a month.
Originally, his plans were to enroll in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corporation (ROTC) at Radford University. The ROTC program would have not only trained him to become an officer in the US Army, but it would have excused him from mandatory deployment in college.
Even so, Edwards had a different agenda in mind. He wanted a taste of the real college experience without having to endure the intense ROTC training program. If taking part in this opportunity meant having to risk deployment due to his prior enlistment into the Army, he was willing to take his chances.
Edwards resumed his first two years of college without the burden of ROTC. He focused on his major in political science, and stepped out of his shell to expand his social identity. As a result, Edwards became a brother in Theta Chi Fraternity.
“I met [Edwards] on the house tours when I decided to rush, and we ended up being pledge brothers. I thought he was hilarious,” said sophomore Neil Sargent.
Junior and Theta Chi brother Jake McConville is Edwards’ big brother in the fraternity. “I knew we were going to be good friends because he could talk to anyone. He is so easy-going.”
Edwards found a “home away from home” in the fraternity. He felt strongly that his place would remain secure among the brothers, despite his future departure.
“He told me about it [deployment] this past fall semester,” McConville said. “He knew that deployment was a possibility, but never took action not to go. I think he kind of wanted to go.”
Like McConville, many of the brothers suspected he was leaving, but they didn’t know for sure. Finding out was a bittersweet reality.
“I found out about his deployment the same morning Jake had found out,” said Theta Chi brother Ryan Willet. “Instead of flat out asking him, I called him to go to the gym. We talked about it for about an hour. I was a little worried, of course, but I knew it was something that he wanted to do.”
Sargent had similar feelings. “At first, I was excited for him because that’s what he wanted to do. Then I thought about it, and I was worried about my pledge brother going. But he wanted to go, and if he’s happy, I’m happy.”
Edwards took time to weigh out the benefits of deployment.
“It will be a unique experience,” Edwards said. “I get to leave the country and learn the culture. I’ll be OK. I’ll make good money, and I’ll get more money to help pay for school.”
He will still have the Internet, his Xbox and a satellite phone to make calls periodically. Edwards will also be accompanied by two friends from home.
“When I come back I’ll have a year left on my contract, and then I’ll be out of the Army,” he said. “I won’t be deployed again.”
Edwards will return home in a year, in which he plans to go back to school and finish his degree. He hopes to one day get into graduate school, and then work his way into Congress. So far, Edwards does not regret any decision he has made.
“Yea, I’m going to be sad, but it’s something that I volunteered for,” Edwards said. “The real fight will be missing everyone.”
Radford University not only offered him an education, but it trained him to find the strength in himself to be a better friend and a better leader. He may be out of the country for some time, but the support system he made continues to encourage his success.
“Good luck and keep in touch, Jake. I know you’ll be OK,” said Sargent.
“Any experience with Jake would usually turn into some kind of adventure. Jake’s a great guy. He’s doing something not many people have the courage to do. Got to be proud of him for it,” Willet said.
“My dad is 46 years old, and his best friend in the world is his Big from college, even still today. I just want you [Edwards] to know that brothers last forever,” said McConville. “It’s an honor wearing that flag. Come home soon, Jake.”