Daniel Shults spent the Christmas holidays at home in Pine Bluff, but soon he’ll be leaving for Afghanistan to serve his country as a member of the U.S. Army.

Daniel Shults spent the Christmas holidays at home in Pine Bluff, but soon he’ll be leaving for Afghanistan to serve his country as a member of the U.S. Army.

Shults, 19, decided during his senior year at Watson Chapel High School to enlist in the Army.

Shults’ mother, Diane, admits she was originally unhappy with his decision to enlist.

"I was scared!" said Diane Shults, a senior parent. "The only thing I knew about the Army was what I saw on TV. But I raised him the best I could, and he has a good head on his shoulders."

Diane’s dream was that her only son would go to college, but when they both realized it was going to take more money than he had acquired through grants and scholarships, Daniel was concerned.

"He did not want to be a burden on me," Diane said.

Daniel decided on his own that he wanted a good education without adding financial stress on his mom. His solution was t enlist in the Aarmy.

There he could make something of his life and also be a support for his mother, which he has generously done.

"He does so much," Diane said. "He even bought me a cell phone so we could stay in touch. It feels awkward to have him helping me with things. I’m used to taking care of him, not the other way around."

Immediately following graduation in 2012, Daniel was off to Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., for basic training. The rigor of the first week was the hardest, he said.

"That’s when you go through reception," Daniel said. " You go through a long string of vaccinations and evaluations to prepare, and it was hard being away from family."

Next, Daniel went to Fort Campbell, Ky., to train for his military occupation specialty (MOS) as a geospatial engineer.

"I make maps for a visualization of the terrain," he said in a matter-of-fact tone, without embellishment.

But a geospatial engineer’s responsibilities are more involved than Daniel’s modest description. The Army website, Goarmy.com, describes the job as being responsible for using geographic data that supports military/civilian operations for disaster relief and homeland security. Geospatial engineers collect, analyze and distribute geospatial information to represent the terrain and its possible effects.

Duties performed by soldiers in this MOS include extracting geographic data from satellite imagery, aerial photography and field reconnaissance; creating geographic data and compiling them into maps’ helping commanders visualize the battlefield; creating and maintaining multiple geospatial databases; and preparing military-style briefs covering all aspects of the terrain.

Sgt.Greg Maskell, Daniel’s first-line supervisor, said Daniel is one of three soldiers (in the brigade) with this very specialized job, which helps soldiers perform maneuvers on the front line.

"He is a great soldier," Maskell said of Daniel Shults. "He is very intelligent and actually… he is the one who brought me up to speed."

Although Daniel is one of the youngest soldiers under his supervision, Maskell said he is impressed with Daniel’s accomplishments.

"He has already graduated from Air Assault School." said Maskell, who has been in the Army for 10 years. That is one of the toughest schools there is. I have never seen a private do that."

Daniel’s mother is impressed as well.

"It just blows my mind," Diane Shults said. "He has always been smart, but he has come a long way in a short time. He already has a specialty and doing more than most kids his age."

While Daniel is home, Diane wants to make sure he has a great time.

"I don’t know when I will see him again, so we want to make the best of it," she said. "We have been together every day, except when he is duck hunting."

Daniel, who is also enjoying his favorite sports and spending time with his father during his furlough, said he knows he would not be as happy had he not joined the Army.

"I have learned a lot and the army has been a jump start to growing up," he said.

Daniel said people tell him he is more calm and easygoing now.

"I don’t let things get to me like it used to," he said.

He looks forward to continuing his growth as he makes his next journey to Afghanistan in February.

"I am excited about the experience of going … and it will be an opportunity to save money." Daniel chuckled, departing momentarily from his previously serious tone."There won’t be anything to spend it on."

At this point, Daniel has no plans to re-enlist. He still envisions using the money he’s earning to go to college. But Maskell believes in Daniel’s potential.

"If he chooses to do the military as a career … he’s such a go-getter, he will go far," Maskell said,

Diane has made a journey — of sorts — of her own in coming to terms with the idea. She finds hope in a Bible verse found in Jeremiah 29:11.

"I used to quote that verse to Daniel all the time," she said. "I am certain the Lord is with him."