Fort Johnson soldier takes time to complete degree, gets ‘traditional’ college experience
Published 9:24 am Thursday, December 14, 2023
Special to the Leesville Leader
Darren Polk has had an unconventional academic career that included online classes, a U.S. Army deployment and getting married. But this past semester, he was able to be a man about campus at Northwestern State University, taking face-to-face classes and participating in student life. Polk graduates today with an Associate of General Studies degree.
A native of Pensacola, Fla., Polk joined the U.S. Army as an active duty military police soldier in 2018, two years after graduating high school. After completing one station unit training at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., he was stationed at Fort Johnson (formerly Fort Polk) in Leesville in the 204th Military Police company. He is a staff sergeant and during his time in the Army has been around the U.S. for several military and training events.
Polk took online college courses through Purdue University Global and in October 2020 he was deployed to the Middle East to support Operation Enduring Freedom.
“This entailed waking up at 3 a.m. for the hour seminars presented by my instructors,” he said. “Once I returned to Fort Johnson in July 2021, I took a break from school with the idea of continuing in the future. Once it came time for me to re-enlist, I chose to take part in the college option that my battalion offers, where I am allowed to attend in-person classes for a single semester. During this time, my goal was to graduate so I could get the ‘full experience’ of college, and as it comes to a close, I’m thankful I chose this path.”
Polk took classes at NSU’s Leesville/Fort Johnson campus and the main campus in Natchitoches, attended football games and maintained good academic standing. His goal in completing the degree was to get the experience and stay competitive for his next promotion.
“My past platoon sergeant offered excellent advice leading up to me making the choice of going back to school and gave me the idea of going for a General Studies degree that could be better used for branching off of instead of other degrees that people in my job over saturate,” he said.
“Darren never thought college would be in his cards, but after five years of service, he has become an accomplished E-6 with a degree to boast now,” said Isabelle, his wife of just over a year, who he met in Louisiana. “This semester at Northwestern has been a once in a lifetime experience because after graduating, Darren is to set off for recruitment orders. No matter where he ends up, Darren will carry on the spirit of Northwestern State University as an alumnus.”
Isabelle is a 2019 graduate of NSU where she earned a Bachelor of Science in Biology and a Bachelor of Arts in Fine and Graphic Art. She is employed at the National Center for Preservation Training on the Natchitoches campus.
Polk said he intends to eventually complete a bachelor’s degree.
“In October, I was selected to be a recruiter for the Army, so after graduation, I will go back to work and prepare to go to school and find out where me and my wife are going to be moving for that challenge,” he said. “I will, however, take a break while I go to recruiter school and settle in wherever we move to for the assignment, but I will be back taking classes as soon as I can.
“Being able to attend college and go to the football games, walk around campus and just be a student is something coming out of high school I never imagined I’d have the opportunity to do it’s something a lot of people can’t do so I’d say this entire experience has been special.”