In many ways, Andrew Long was a typical Westport boy.
He went to Kings Highway, Bedford Middle School and Staples. He lifeguarded at Longshore, and became an Eagle Scout with Troop 36.
He veered a bit from the typical path in 11th grade, when he transferred to Phillips Exeter.
After graduating in 2004 Andrew entered Colgate University. As a senior he applied to Army Officers Candidate School. He was commissioned, and was stationed in Georgia, Kentucky, California, Louisiana and Kansas.
And then, last April — in a journey far from typical for a young Westporter — Andrew went to Afghanistan.
“He was always interested in the military,” his mother Sandra explains. “As a kid, he was really into the Civil War.”
She thinks 9/11 influenced him greatly. “He was in 10th grade at the time. From then on, he thought about serving in the military all through college. We were at war, and he wanted to help.”
The Longs were not thrilled.
“We’re not a military family, and that’s not what most Westport kids do,” Sandra says. “We were worried. But he was adamant. So we said ‘We support you. We love you.'”
Now, Sandra says, “We’re so proud of him. He is so brave, dedicated and patriotic.”
In Afghanistan Andrew was posted to a forward operating base 50 miles west of Kandahar.
Part of the famed 1st Infantry Division — “The Big Red One” — Andrew served mostly as a maneuver platoon leader, with a combination of armor and infantry men. They used vehicles, went on foot patrol, and did a number of air assault missions with helicopters. Sometimes, he commanded Afghan soldiers.
“He’s amazingly versatile,” Sandra says proudly.
The Longs did not know much about what he was doing. They spoke every 3 or 4 weeks by phone, for 10 or 15 minutes at a time.
“He talked about the great poverty in Afghanistan — mud huts, no water or electricity,” she says. “Sometimes things were very quiet. Other times, during missions, it was wild.”
The hardest part, he told his mother, were when members of his unit were killed.
“I’m sure there’s a ton of stuff I don’t know,” she notes.
On Christmas Eve, Andrew called his parents. “I’m coming home,” he said.
When he returned to Fort Riley, Kansas earlier this month, it was with a Bronze Star Medal for meritorious service. The Longs were there to greet him.
After spending some leave time in Westport, Andrew will return to Fort Riley.
It won’t be forever. Sandra says he will not make the military his career. He has, however, “certainly appreciated” his service.
Yet still, something felt strange.
“There are very few military families here,” Sandra says. “When I went out to Kansas, there were lots.
“I think people in Westport don’t know what to think about having a son serving in the military. They’ve been super to us. But in some ways, we’ve also been alone.”