Everyone knows Virginia Military Institute is a tough school. It takes a lot of hard work and dedication.
It's even tougher when you have to put down your books and pick up a gun, all in the name of freedom.
Several current cadets at VMI have put their country over their education.
David Downing of Roanoke, arrived at VMI in 2005. He's been deployed twice for the U.S. Army. Downing told News 7, "Iraq, you have people shooting at you."
Mike Lund can relate.
After arriving on post in 2006, this Marine has left twice to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan. Lund told News 7, "If you didn't get shot at during the day, it was a quiet day."
These men were determined not only to come back in one piece but also come back and graduate.
"Coming back to VMI was always the number one goal, to get the diploma and get the ring," said David Downing.
But it isn't easy. College life can be much different the second and third time around.
"You see a lot of things over there that you don't get in everyday life and when you get pushed against the wall and it's life and death, it changes you," said Mike Lund.
Since the war on terror began more than 10 years ago, 61 cadets at VMI have been called to active duty. Out of that, 39 have returned to VMI to earn their diploma.
Brian Quisenberry is associate director of Financial Aid at VMI and has been deployed to Iraq. He believes what these cadets have done, gone off to war and come back to school, is truly amazing.
Quisenberry told News 7, "It's not every man or women who steps up to the plate when it comes to preserving those things that we hold dear, freedom."
Cadets Downing and Lund will get together from to time, share their war experiences and lean on one another.
"I think you talk about it sometimes to kinda get a laugh out of it. You don't talk about every little detail of it. You don't talk about the things when you are scared the most," said Mike Lund.
The ribbons on their uniforms are a reminder of their service and sacrifice. These vets often receive gratitude from their fellow cadets.
"It feels good to know that somebody cares but it's not something that we're really trying to advertise either. I'm not looking for any kind of recognition. I'm just doing my job," said David Downing.
Downing is scheduled to graduate from VMI in May.
Mike Lund plans to pick up his diploma in May 2013.