Long Tran naturally leads by example.
When the 26-year old U.S. Army medic is not serving his country as a member of Fort Lauderdale's 724th Military Police Battalion, he's working long hours on a graduate degree at Nova Southeastern University.
Somewhere, between the relentless demands of school and work, Tran also finds time to train 70-90 miles a week for Nova's cross-country and track teams. It comes as no surprise that Nova's elder statesman has quickly found success on the course, despite being relatively new to the sport.
"We won conference and region for the first time in school history," says Nova Southeastern cross-country and track coach Bryan Hagopian. "Long was the missing piece. Wonderful kid."
Many of Tran's teammates know him only as the quiet kid with a championship stride. But what they don't know about the humble and quiet teammate is that Tran has lived a double life as a valiant soldier, thriving under pressure. He deployed to Afghanistan in 2008, serving in the 48th Combat Support Hospital. One night, disaster struck their base. Their barracks were under siege. Suddenly, someone else's life fell into his.
"We had a mass casualty,” Tran says. “There were more patients than us. They came in because they were rocketed. Two boys, an old man, and a lady that was pregnant. Her leg was blown off."
"We made sure the boys were okay, then we came to her and made sure she had a good tourniquet on to stop the bleeding in both legs," he adds. "We had to use an interpreter, trying to translate. I knew a couple of words to try to calm her."
His brave actions saved the woman's life, but not her child's.
Tran is a third-generation serviceman, with military roots that date back to World War II. His mother is half-American, a child of the Vietnam War. Their family escaped the country when he was just 11 years old, relocating to Chesapeake, Virginia.
After the events of 9/11, Tran heard his calling to join the military. He joined the JROTC in high school and continued his service after graduating. During two deployments overseas, Tran took up running as a hobby. It quickly became an essential part of his military routine.
"Running while I was over there, helped me take my mind off things I was seeing. It just made it better," he says. "The route was around the perimeter, about six miles. That was easy. Usually I'd do two. It was all sand or gravel. Some dunes and hills."
Running for peace of mind, it became an easy transition to the Nova cross-country and track teams. He led the cross-country squad to a South Region championship. Now during track season, he is looking to break 30 minutes in a 10K race. Despite being in good educational standing, the NCAA has limited his eligibility from four years to just 12 months. There is no time like the present.
"We were floored when we heard that," Hagopian says.
Long's teammates look up to him, the coach says.
"His attitude is always positive. He comes to practice every day. Tries hard," he says. "The big thing we always say, 'If Long's doing it. You guys can do it.' We don't want to hear any complaints."
Long has always learned to take life in stride. He never knows when the next deployment could bring him back overseas.
"You appreciate your time while you're in school more. You have to take your opportunities and work hard," he says.
"When you say the word deployment, it does bring up a lot of emotions and a lot of changes," Long adds. "That's why it scares me. I don't think about my safety here. I'm safe."