When Lt. Clarence Langley III left the Army last year, combat was still a fresh, bitter memory.
A religious man, Langley believed God brought him home safely from Iraq to the tiny, picturesque central Florida town of Floral City. He would put down roots and his children would grow up around his mother and his extended family.
He spent the last school year teaching business at Lecanto High School. He was looking forward to molding more young minds this fall. Then the letter came in the mail.
The Army wanted him back. Langley flies to Arizona on Thursday. He'll be gone for a year, maybe two. He could end up in a war zone again. He understands that.
"I'm a soldier," he said.
This is a call to duty he must answer. He doesn't question that. But the sad truth is the Army is desperate for fighters. After six years in Afghanistan and four in Iraq, the Army is stretched to its limit. There's no military draft. Young men and women aren't exactly racing to sign up.
The Army missed its active-duty recruiting goals in June for the second month in a row. The brass is trying to boost the Army by 34,000, dangling a new $20,000 bonus plan for those who sign up by September.
The reasons for war are dubious and the majority of Americans want to get out. But our president is resolute, which means men like 35-year-old Langley must return to uniform. There are plenty of able-bodied men, but sacrifice is limited to a relative handful. Most of us prefer to show patriotism in words rather than action.
Still, the letter surprised Langley. He thought he was done.
A Citrus High School graduate, he had quit college to join the Army after his dad, a Korean war veteran also named Clarence, fell ill. He advanced through the ranks in seven years. By the time, the United States had invaded Iraq in 2003, Sgt. Langley was in Officer Candidate School in Fort Benning, Ga. A year later, he was a lieutenant leading men from the 25th Infantry Division into combat in Kirkuk, Iraq.
After his duty ended, Langley wanted nothing more than to be with his family and close to his mom, Alida. For him, it was enough to just go over to her house and cut her grass, taste her cooking, hear her laugh. When you've seen combat death and destruction, simple life really matters.
Floral City will be the real loser when Langley, his wife, Tracy, and their four children ship out for Fort Huachuca, southwest of Tucson. He founded the Word of Faith Christian Life, a fledgling 19-member congregation that meets in the local community center. Will it survive without this family?
True to form, Langley isn't dwelling on negatives.
Nothing is a coincidence, he says. God has a purpose.
"I must have done something right,'' he said, "so they feel the need to call me back."
Andrew Skerritt can be reached at (813) 909-4602 or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 4602. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.