Broderick Carroll and Richard Balanon

In May, two UMUC students stood in the undergraduate robing room at the Comcast Center in College Park, Maryland, preparing to walk the stage and receive their degrees.

Both had earned their bachelor’s degree after 10 years of studying while serving in the Air Force. Both knew what it felt like to reprioritize their coursework in the face of greater challenges, such as taking on an overseas combat mission or helping out in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.

And both were in for a surprise.

Broderick Carroll, who earned his degree in Computer Networks and Security, had been wondering whether he would recognize anybody from his classes when someone approached him.

“I told him I knew him from somewhere, and instantly our brains passed a spark and we connected as we did back in 2005,” recalled Cybersecurity program graduate Richard Balanon.

Nearly 10 years earlier, the two had been chosen for a special mission in Iraq. Balanon, Carroll, and their fellow servicemembers had formed a tight bond during their 18-month training and deployment, then lost touch after returning to their respective bases in Maryland and Texas.

But they didn’t lose sight of their higher education goals, even though the road to completion was long and winding.

Carroll and Balanon had tried other colleges and said they stuck with UMUC because of its flexibility.

“I think UMUC was the ninth school that I’ve gone to,” said Carroll, a self-described temporary duty (TDY) assignment guy.

“The professors at UMUC were phenomenal when I had to go TDY. I might have been working 20-hour shifts or just doing all kind of craziness, and I couldn’t really get to my coursework in a timely manner. When I let my professors know about it, they were more than willing to work with me.”

Balanon, who has a one-year-old son, agreed and said he also appreciated UMUC accepting transfer credits and giving him credit for his military training. UMUC’s flexibility kept Balanon going and getting the work done during his final year, when he found himself balancing parenthood with his military career, coursework, and job applications.

Now, he and Carroll are moving on to bigger things.

Carroll, on active duty as a protective communications team member with the 51st Combat Communications Squadron at Robins Air Force Base in Georgia, has been accepted to UMUC’s master’s degree program in Information Technology with a specialization in Homeland Security Management. He hopes to eventually move to Washington, D.C., to pursue a career with the federal government.

Balanon, who recently separated from the Air Force after 13 years of honorable service, has just begun his next chapter as a foreign service specialist in information management with the U.S. State Department.

The two hope their paths will cross again.

Said Balanon, “It was truly a blessing to connect with a past friend and see that we both have a bright future ahead of us.”