Students who complain about 8 a.m. classes or multiple writing assignments each term should walk a mile in Roy Emerson’s combat boots.
First Lt. Emerson, who graduated with honors in criminal justice from Troy University in December 2007, is one of the thousands of TROY students who have earned their degrees through eArmyU. Nicknamed “the laptop Army,” the eArmyU program allows soldiers in the field to earn their degrees via distance learning.
Emerson’s academic challenges far exceed forgetting to set the alarm clock or procrastinating on an important term paper. He fulfilled his assignment as a heavy weapons platoon leader in Afghanistan while completing his coursework. The California native has served 20 years in the U.S. Army and in 2005 attended Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning, GA, after 17 years of enlisted service.
After earning his lieutenant’s bars, Emerson decided he wanted to pursue a bachelor’s degree, but he first had a date with Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. Studying for a college degree online while waging war presents predictable challenges, such as inconsistent internet service in the field, Emerson said.
“The most challenging part of taking my courses while deployed was the coordination between my professors and me at times when my patrol schedule interfered with important deadlines like quizzes and exams,” Emerson said. “I must commend each and every instructor I had as they all were extremely gracious in allowing me a little flexibility in the course syllabus. God knows how many times I have had to leave suddenly in the middle of working on an assignment.”
Other complications arose when Emerson was deployed to combat outposts, which had no internet service. He saved assignments to his laptop and did his homework in the field. He was in a hurry to finish the degree before he redeployed. He requested an assignment to serve again with the 75th Ranger Regiment. Emerson said completing his degree increased his chances of getting the assignment he wanted.
Emerson credited his wife Mia for inspiring and supporting him as he continued his education.
Emerson added he appreciates the support of the “TROY for Troops” Committee, which was formed last year under the leadership of TROY First Lady Janice Hawkins to support Trojans serving in combat zones. He wears his TROY t-shirt proudly whenever he can and even flew the University flag at a combat outpost near the Afghanistan and Pakistan border.
“The entire experience has been truly rewarding,” Emerson said. “How many others can say they graduated college in the middle of fighting a war? Cum laude at that. Awesome!”
Davis is director of university relations.