Josh Land is about to embark on the biggest challenge of his life.
It's one that will send the 26-year-old thousands of miles from Thomson and Aiken. Those are the places he has grown so accustomed to during his life.
His new life, at least for the next year: the warzone of Afghanistan.
That part of his life begins with his deployment this week.
His mission there will be to provide safe passage along roadways for American troops. He will be one of the leaders of a 190-member group. One of their duties will be to locate and dismantle improvised explosive devices, which are placed along the roadsides by enemy troops in hopes of killing and wounding American military troops.
Family and friends of Army National Guard 1st Lt. Josh Land gathered in The Georgia Room of Best Western White Columns Inn last Sunday to show him how much they appreciate his unselfish contributions to America during wartime.
"It will be our job to provide safe passage for American troops," said 1st Lt. Land.
His father and other family members are most proud of him.
"I'm extremely proud of him," said 1st Lt. Land's father, Keith, who owns and operates Keith Land Appliance and Air Conditioning Service in Thomson. "He and his mother and I have watched him grow into a fine young man. He's made many fine choices and it's very admirable."
His grandmother, Jane Hughes, of Thomson, echoed her son's sentiments.
"We're all very proud of Josh," said Mrs. Hughes, who organized the weekend event for her grandson.
"He's making a tremendous sacrifice for our country and we're very proud of him," added his aunt, Teresa Ashcraft, also of Thomson.
First Lt. Land, a 2002 graduate of Briarwood Academy, where he played football and participated in track and field events, has been a member of the U.S. Army National Guard for the past seven years.
First Lt. Land knew early in his life he wanted to become a soldier, because he was always interested in playing with toy soldiers, cowboys and Indians.
David Painter, his Dad's step-father, even purchased him a real Army uniform when he was just a little boy.
"We still have a picture of him wearing that solder's uniform on the front of our refrigerator today," said his mother, Karen Land. "He's always wanted to be a soldier."
First Lt. Land remembered wearing that uniform as often as possible.
"I loved wearing it," said 1st Lt. Land. "I knew I wanted to grow up and become a soldier right then."
He never wavered wanting to become a soldier. It was true when he attended high school at Briarwood Academy, too. First Lt. Land said he wanted to do well academically, because he had set his sights on attending The Citadel, a prestigious military institution in South Carolina.
At The Citadel, 1st Lt. Land, who grew up in Thomson, earned a degree in criminal justice. He graduated from the military school in 2006. Instead of pursuing a law profession or law enforcement career, he opted on a military career.
"I always had that sense of duty to give back to my country," said 1st Lt. Land, who became an Eagle Scout Boy Scout Troop 316 at Thomson Presbyterian Church just before he celebrated his 18th birthday. "I chose to become a soldier and to fight for my country so that people I care about and love won't have to do it. I want to keep the bad guys over there, so they never come to the United States."
His unselfish attitude and military discipline has helped make him the man he is today.
"I've learned so much in the Army," said 1st Lt. Land, who received boot camp and infantry training at Fort Benning. "I'm looking forward to learning many other things in my military career."
Fisrt Lt. Land, who married his wife, Terresa, a little less than a year ago, live in Aiken County, S.C. where he is a member of the South Carolina Army National Guard.
"I love being a member of the Guard," said 1st Lt. Land, noting that his 22-year-old wife also is a member of the National Guard. The 22-year-old Mrs. Land serves as a medic.
Like most wives, Mrs. Land worries about her husband's first mission to the warzone and says she will pray for his safe return home every day.
"I'll be talking with him as much as I can," said Mrs. Land. "And I'll miss him."
First Lt. Land admitted that he also is a little nervous -- not so much about the mission itself, but because it's been such a long process to get to this point.
"I have known about this for the past year," he said. "I'm just tired of waiting around. I'm just ready to get started."
First Lt. Land said he sincerely appreciated what family members did for him on Sunday.
"It was really very special and very meaningful to me," he said.