Some 8-year-old boys want to be firefighters or police officers when they grow up. But Rylan Randolph always dreamed of becoming a United States Army soldier.
"I remember as a kid watching the First Gulf War. I was 8 years old at the time and I thought, 'Well, the U.S. is going to war and this is the war of my generation and I won't be able to get involved because I'm 8 so I'm too young,'" said Randolph, 30.
Nevertheless, Randolph got his chance 12 years later in 2003 when he was deployed to Iraq.
"You watch this airplane take off...and you're like, 'That was my ride in. Now it's leaving and I'm stuck in another county. I am about to go to war and there went my ride so how do I get back home?'" Randolph said.
Home was far off in the Hub City and Randolph knew there was a good chance he would never see it again.
Randolph was a gunner on a humvee and a field artillery cannon crew member and admits there were times when he was scared to death. Despite his fears, he fought to protect his fellow soldiers on all sides to the bitter end.
Randolph recalls an experience seeing a flagged coffin in Iraq. "I didn't know this person that was being sent home. I thought...'Why was it him and not me?'" he said.
Randolph found himself not wanting to leave Iraq and describes coming to the end of his tour bittersweet.
"I felt like I did everything I could every day. But...I didn't know if I had fulfilled my personal mission going over there," Randolph said.
Despite the intensity of the war, when Randolph's deployment was over in 2004, he asked to go back because he said there was so much more he wanted to do.
"The mission is still going so why are we coming home? Yeah we're tired and we want to see our family...but the job's not done,'" he said.
Randolph wasn't able to go back to Iraq because all the positions were already filled. Instead, he went to college at Texas Tech and graduated this past December with a degree in criminology.
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