CORVALLIS - Oregon State University veterinary medicine student Keelan Rogers received a hero's welcome as he arrived on campus Thursday morning after returning from military duty in Iraq.
The Eugene resident's plans to enter the OSU's College of Veterinary Medicine professional degree program were put on hold in the summer of 2003 when he was notified that his Army National Guard infantry unit was being activated.
Rogers, a second lieutenant, returned to Oregon on March 25 in a convoy from Ft. Lewis, Wash.
"The bus ride down was impressive," Rogers said. "The entire way down we saw people coming out to welcome us home and thank us for our service. It was pretty impressive to see people standing along the interstate and on overpasses just to watch us pass. We also had more than 100 bikers on their Harleys escorting us most of the way.
"As we approached Eugene, we had nearly 20 city motorcycle police escort us up to the armory where two fire trucks and hundreds of people and reporters were there to welcome us back home."
The surprise crowd greeting Rogers in the lobby of the college's Magruder Hall today was smaller, but no less enthusiastic. The welcoming party, coordinated by Rogers' fellow students, included signs and lots of hugs and handshakes.
"It's terrific having him back," said Howard Gelberg, dean of the OSU College of Veterinary Medicine.
The college had been receiving periodic updates from Rogers while he was in Iraq, including video, via e-mail.
"He'd share his thoughts with us, reflecting on the Iraqi people and their society," Gelberg said. "It's wonderful to have him return to us. His diversity of experiences will help bring more of a world view to his class and to the college."
Rogers had graduated with a bachelor's degree in animal sciences at OSU in 2003 and was preparing to enter the College of Veterinary Medicine when the Army National Guard called. The university arranged to hold a spot for him until he returned to Oregon.
"Keelan was originally in the Class of 2007, but we held a spot for him and now he's a welcome member of the Class of 2009," Gelberg said. There was a sense of adventure when Rogers set out for Iraq more than a year ago.
"It's exciting to finally be leaving, but a little nerve-racking on the other hand," he said.
But now he's looking forward to getting back to his hobby - polo - and preparing for school.
"It's great to be done. I am finally home. I am really enjoying everything. I have nearly six months now before I will be starting veterinary school. I am looking forward to school with eager anticipation in the fall, but I am very glad to have a nice long break. This spring and summer I am planning to play a lot and work a little. I am planning to ride my horse, go fishing, waterskiing, work with my new dog, and take a few short trips this summer."
Rogers also expressed gratitude for all the people who supported him and all the other troops serving their country.
"I would like to take a minute to thank you all for all your prayers and support of the last 18 months. God has really shown me over the last year the power of prayer and I know that it made a huge difference while I was gone.
"I have heard from many of you over the last year and I thank you very much for writing. It really helped during the highs and lows to hear from all of you about what was going on and being able to share with somebody what was happening in Iraq.
"As far as Iraq goes, now that I am gone, I worked with a lot of interesting Iraqi people during the last year and it is talking with these people that gives me hope for Iraq. Progress is very slow and will continue to be slow for many years to come, but contrary to the news, good things are happening.
'The U.S. has done a lot of good things for the people and most of the people are very grateful. It is my guess that it is going to take a generation before the people really change and begin to do things for themselves. The quality of life for the Iraqi people as a whole has been one of the biggest things I saw changed over the last year. The people would like to be living by American standards overnight, but many things must change in their society before they reach that goal."
Rogers still has a commitment to the Army, and while he will be going back to National Guard training for one weekend a month, he said he will not have deploy again for the next five years.