Senior accounting major Tony Maldonado never thought he would have to leave his friends behind, but after just two and a half years he heeded the call to join his brothers in the military overseas for one of the most important journeys of his life.
After a year and a half away from the university, he has returned to continue his education at Abilene Christian University.
In the middle of his junior year, Maldonado received his orders to deploy overseas to the country of Djibouti, Africa. His life, friends and family all took a backseat to his devotion to his country as he left to train at Camp Bullis in San Antonio before he made the trek across thousands of miles of ocean. Maldonado’s only regret, he said, was that he had to spend so much time away from his family and friends.
“It was definitely a huge change of scenery for me,” said Maldonado. “If I could have had my way, I would have definitely rather served after I completed school. It just feels like I missed a lot, and then coming back into accounting is definitely not without a learning curve.”
Maldonado’s experience in the military was eye-opening. For him, this experience helped him realize the tight situations of other countries compared to America, but that the trip definitely was not all bad.
“While I may have missed my friends and family, I got to make new friends in my deployment. Ones I’ll never forget,” said Maldonado. “Those guys are brothers to me; we experienced blood, sweat and tears together while we were in Djibouti.”
The branch of military Maldonado served in is called the National Guard. According to its website, the National Guard is devoted to serving the country with its members inside of the United States, rather than overseas.
Maldonado’s parents, Lydia and Angel Maldonado Jr., said they are more than proud of Tony’s accomplishments both in college and in the National Guard.
“We are proud of our son. He has done what he has had to in order to make ends meet in life,” said Angel Maldonado Jr. “No matter his decision in life, he will always have his parents behind him and supporting him.”
Maldonado’s parents, while sad he had to leave the country, said they would always support Tony no matter what.
ACU Foundation President Brad Benham has known Tony for three years.
“Tony is an amazing man, and it is truly a bummer he had to leave,” said Benham. “His friends will all love him being back.”
Maldonado’s platoon, called the Defenders, were deployed to Djibouti, Africa, in May 2018. His platoon stayed out of country through April 2019. The platoon was stationed at Camp Lemonnier, which was Maldonado’s home for close to eight months.
While he was away from the states, Maldonado said he had a lot of time on his hands, which was the perfect opportunity to earn money and to take a couple of online classes so his workload would be less when he got back. He was paid by the National Guard during his deployment. Now that he has returned, Maldonado still serves one weekend each month at Camp Bullis in San Antonio to fulfill his requirements to the National Guard.
Dr. Andy Little, associate dean of the College of Business Administration and Management Sciences and professor, has been a large influence on Maldonado since he started at ACU.
“Tony is a talented young man with so much potential,” said Little. “It was a bummer to see Tony leave for awhile, but I think he ended up doing what was best for him and his college career.”
Little said he was happy to see Maldonado return to campus in August. Maldonado and Little have already gotten a chance to catch up over coffee after Tony’s first week of classes.
“Tony is a great re-addition to the class because he has so much to offer the other students,” said Little. “He is confident in what he says and leaves an excellent example for the rest of the class, especially in group-based projects.”
Maldonado said he is extremely excited to be back in the mix of college. His first few weeks have been challenging but fun.
“Finishing out my college education at ACU means even more to me now than it did before,” said Maldonado. “I really feel like this is going to be such a large part of my life, and my deployment with the National Guard has made me realize how great even the little things in life can be.”
Even though he lost time to the National Guard, Maldonado said, he will continue his college career the best he can. He is especially excited to spend time with his roommates and friends while they all still have time in Abilene together.
“While I was overseas, my friends were my rocks,” said Maldonado. “It’s pretty lonely over there at times, but they would make it better by taking time out of their day to call me and ask about deployment. I’ll never forget that.”