Back from Iraq, Marine Corps Reservist celebrates degree

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Marine Corps Reservist James Adams returned home April 29 after his second tour of Iraq. On Friday, May 16, he received his bachelor's degree in law and justice studies from Rowan University.

Anbar province, west of Baghdad, is a world away from the University Green at Rowan University. But thoughts of the joy he would feel on Commencement Day helped sustain James Adams while he was serving a seven-month tour of Iraq with the United States Marine Corps Reserve.

"Even if they had to parachute me in, I wasn't going to miss graduation," says 1st Sgt. Adams, who served in the Task Force Military Police in Iraq.

Adams, 41, of Sicklerville, returned home April 29 after his second tour of Iraq. On Friday, May 16, he received his bachelor's degree in law and justice studies from Rowan's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences during the University's 84th annual Commencement ceremony. Fittingly, he wore his Marine Corps dress blues.

Adams has been pursuing his degree--through full-time work and military deployments--for 11 years. His just-finished tour completed a 24-month deployment for the 1984 graduate of West Deptford High School.

In addition to two, seven-month tours "in country" in Iraq, Adams also spent time training in Yuma, Ariz., Fort Polk, La., and Camp Lejeune, N.C. during his deployment.

An active duty Marine from 1987 until 1993, when he joined the Reserve, Adams works as a correctional officer for the Gloucester County Department of Correctional Services. He earned his associate's degree in law enforcement from Gloucester County College in 1997 and promptly enrolled at Rowan intent on earning his bachelor's degree.

"Through civilian and military jobs, several deployments and many training evolutions, I've been chipping away at my degree for some time," he says. "I know how important education and personal accomplishments are."

Adams greeted his family upon his return to the U.S. and then jumped on a plane to Las Vegas to celebrate his homecoming with his wife Jamie. His mother, Wende, recently earned her master's degree from the University of Pennsylvania, "so I kind of didn't have a choice in getting my degree," he laughs.

"I have an 18-year-old daughter, Tamika, and I want to encourage her to go to college," he continues. "I truly believe in leadership by example."

Adams is now in a "demobilization phase," meaning he won't begin Reserve training cycles again until August. That will give him time to decompress and truly savor his Rowan Commencement.

While in Iraq, Adams actually used his lone morale phone call in January to call Rowan and inquire about graduation. He spoke with Polly Leonardi, assistant to the dean in the College of Professional and Continuing Education, who connected him with the proper Rowan folks to ensure he wouldn't miss out on the Pomp and Circumstance.

Adams has one three-credit law and justice course to take this fall to complete his degree. Students who have less than 12 semester hours to complete may participate in Rowan's May Commencement.

"I'm just so glad to be here," says Adams. "The support of family and friends kept me motivated throughout and I appreciate their support so much."

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