Langer enlisted in the United States Army in December 2001, and he took part in the invasion of Iraq in March 2003 with the 89th Transportation Company. He was deployed to Iraq for a second time in 2005. “I reenlisted during that deployment,” said Langer. “I was with an amazing group of soldiers and I couldn’t leave them.”
Langer was promoted to staff sergeant and became a squad leader, a job he found enormously satisfying. “The squad leader is the point of contact for individuals for everything from daily schedules and assignments to helping them adjust to life overseas,” he said. “You try to help them, keep them safe, make sure they’re well trained. You wear almost every hat there is.”
As convoy commander, it was Langer’s responsibility to run the missions. “Every time we’d go outside the wire and drive over the roads of Iraq, it was up to me to handle security and make sure the vehicles were prepped,” he said.
Langer’s luck held until the vehicle he was in detonated an IED. “That was not the most fun time of my life,” Langer said. The blast tore all the muscles in his back and caused traumatic brain injury; he was awarded the Purple Heart.
When he was deployed to Iraq a third time, he decided to earn his associate’s degree by taking online courses offered by the University of Maryland. “I’d work 36 hours followed by eight hours off,” said Langer, “and I’d spend half that time studying. Anytime I was waiting for a convoy, I’d have my nose in a book.” He received his degree in a ceremony that was held in what had once been Saddam Hussein’s palace.
After his discharge in December 2010, Langer returned to Buffalo. “It was a culture shock, just trying to remember how to live like a civilian,” he said. He was also suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
However, Langer persevered, drawing strength from the lessons he’d learned in the service. “I took to the military rather well, and the army taught me discipline,” he said. “I started to excel at things, and once I started to excel, I got into the habit of seeking excellence. The army erased ‘I can’t’ from my vocabulary.”
Langer came to Buffalo State where he served as acting president of the Student Veterans of America while earning his bachelor’s degree in communication studies with a straight-A average. After taking a position with the federal government, Langer returned to Buffalo State and has earned a master’s in public administration, again earning a perfect average.
“I wanted to make my kids proud and let them know they can do it, too,” said Langer. Although he continues to struggle with PTSD—he’s rebuilding a motorcycle as a way to help himself relax and stay focused—he looks forward to continuing his public service through his work with the U. S. Department of State. And he has a word of advice to his fellow veterans. “Connect with other veterans on campus. Remember, you have the ability to excel.”
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