Think About It

The Two Faces of Brian Swomley

by Don Meyer, Ph.D. | July 16, 2011

"Could I have but a line a century hence crediting a contribution to the advance of peace, I would gladly yield every honor which has been accorded me in war."
Douglas MacArthur

Brian Swomley is the Director of the VFCC IT Department. He oversees all of the administrative and academic hardware and software technology at the college. He has worked at VFCC for five (5) years. He is married to Amanda and they have three children: Charity (10), Ocean (8), and Silas (4). 

Sgt. Brian Swomley is also a full-time soldier. He is in his fifth month of a 12-month assignment in Afghanistan. Brian joined the Pennsylvania National Guard as a reservist while he was a student at VFCC. In February 2003 he and three other VFCC students (Ben Dunfee, Christian Petrone, Boswell Anglin) were called up for active duty during the Iraq war. 

When that call came last fall, all of us here at VFCC froze. We realize that this story happens over and over to family and friends but this was our Brian and this was his family and these now became our unknowns. Suddenly, the reports on the news took on an unanticipated and unpreferred twist. 

As he made his final preparations, we all gave our final farewells. Every conversation was laden with meaning. We tried to savor every look and every hug. I wanted a picture of him and his dear family to place as my desktop background on my computer to remind me each day to pray for him and his family. 

All too quickly November 2010 arrived and the employee face was replaced by the soldier face. His suit and tie were replaced by his military uniform. His computer was replaced with a gun. After a few weeks of final preparation, he was off to Dover, DE; Germany, Kuwait and Afghanistan. 

We cherish every communique because it reminds us that Brian the soldier is still Brian the employee. And as each day passes, he is getting closer and closer to coming home. 

He described a mission in Afghanistan that should have taken three or at the most four days but was extended to 25 days because of innumerable challenges including snow, mud and treacherous roads along mountain passes without guardrails. "The country is beautiful," he said. "I just wish I wasn't getting shot at." 

During the first week of April he was granted a 15-day leave to come home. He sent me an email and, other than his family, no one knew. I couldn't believe the words when I first read them. We were able to keep it as a surprise. Oh the joy on everyone's faces when he appeared! Our students gave him a standing ovation when he walked into the Chapel. 

He showed us pictures of his current world: the trucks; the guns; the soldiers; the barracks; the U.S. and Pennsylvania flags. He even showed us a pole which had a sign pointing in the right direction: Philly, 6,820 miles. 

A few days before he returned to Afghanistan I wanted to host him in my office for lunch. I wanted to take time to express my deep appreciation and admiration for him and what he is doing for all of us. We spoke of leadership and family and job description and challenges, intertwining our words with laughter and tears. Our final prayer together was a sacred moment indeed. 

When Brian was first called to active duty in November 2010 I wrote these words: 
1. Wars are fought by young people. 
2. Wars are very complex. 
3. Wars are awful. 
4. Wars are expensive. 
5. Wars are necessary. 
6. Wars are emotional. 
7. Wars are personal. 

And as I write these words I see Brian the employee in his suit and tie. I also see Brian the soldier in his uniform with his gun. 

I can't wait to have Brian the employee back at VFCC. 

Think about it.

Dr. Don Meyer is President of 
Valley Forge Christian College, Phoenixville, PA 
Responses can be mailed to president@vfcc.edu
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