The men and women who make us one of the top ‘military friendly’ schools in the U.S.
By Billy Liggett
Campbell’s ROTC honors and its recent ‘Military Friendly’ and ‘Best for Vets’ accolades have made it an attractive destination for future officers and veterans from all over the U.S. Its strong reputation with the military wasn’t built in a day.
By Billy Liggett
Critical Thinking: The deliberate process of thought whose purpose is to discern truth in situations where direct observation is insufficient, impossible or impractical. It involves careful consideration of information, premises, goals and proposed solutions. It has purpose, follows reason and is directed by goals.
— U.S. Army Field Manual 6-22
Edward Pethan was sent to Germany shortly after his graduation from Campbell University and his commissioning ceremony with the University’s ROTC program in 1989 to learn about the Fulda Gap and how the Russian Army could potentially use it to invade West Berlin. Pethan arrived just months before the first bricks of the Berlin Wall were chipped away, marking the beginning of the end of the 41-year Cold War. Everything he had prepared for as a student and now a newly commissioned U.S. Army second lieutenant was coming down with the wall.
Less than a year later, Saddam Hussein and his Iraqi troops invaded Kuwait. Pethan soon found himself wearing a new color of camouflage, fighting in the largest armored battle since World War II.
“I can’t say that I predicted back in ’89 that in a year, I’d be fighting an armored tank war in a Middle Eastern desert,” Pethan says. “It wasn’t even on my radar screen.”
Almost 25 years after graduating, Lt. Col. Pethan finds himself the interim professor of military science for his alma mater’s nationally respected ROTC program. As the PMS, Pethan heads not only Camel Company, but the entire Campbell Battalion, which includes Fayetteville State, Methodist and UNC-Pembroke universities.
And for his most recent final exam essay, Pethan is asking his students where they think their generation — a generation that was in grade school during the Sept. 11, 2001, and has grown up with the war on terrorism — will fight next, and why they think so.
“I asked them this because I want them to learn how to think critically,” says Pethan. “I never thought I’d fight in the desert. I never thought that 10 years later, terrorists would take our commercial airplanes and fly them into buildings. So I’m asking our future officers today, ‘What’s going to be your 9-11? Your Desert Storm?’”
“It’s one thing to be proficient in your weapons and battle drills and to rehearse them over and over again,” he adds. “But we’re in the business of teaching young leaders how to think — not ‘what’ to think.”
It’s been the program’s approach since Jan. 28, 1971, the day the late Campbell President Norman A. Wiggins chartered Campbell ROTC with the belief that having a military presence on campus would provide “drive and inspiration” to all students on campus. Today, Campbell ROTC commissions more officers than any other civilian school in the nation and is considered one of the top programs in the Army.
And the 2013-14 academic year has brought in even more accolades. Campbell University was named to the coveted Military Friendly Schools list by Victory Media, which honors the Top 20 percent of schools in the country that are “doing the most to embrace U.S. military service members, veterans and spouses as students and ensure their success on campus.” The Military Times made Campbell the only private university in North Carolina to make its “Best for Vets 2014” list, which takes into account enrollment numbers, GI Bill tuition and other factors that make it easier for veterans to enroll.
It’s a point of pride for Pethan, who became only the second Campbell graduate to assume the role of PMS at the school. Looking up at his white board of student names and their GPAs, he smiles.
“Hundreds of thousands of students in the United States go to college every day,” he says. Very few of them go to college to one day raise their right hand and swear an oath to the U.S. Constitution as an officer in the Army. Look at the caliber of students we have [Pethan points to his white board and starts reading off GPAs] 4.0, 3.6, 4.0, 4.0, 3.8, 3.9. These are just my seniors. And they’re phenomenal kids. The best part of this job is the ability to take these 57 seniors and coach them, teach them and mentor them. I wish I could do this forever.”
“Here, they instill discipline. They expect a lot more from you. They teach you how to be an officer. You don’t come here to just follow instructions and get by. You don’t just come here to meet certain standards. You come here to think and to learn how to exceed those standards. It’s the real Army here. It’s not a joke.”
— Campbell junior, ROTC student Natali Juarez
Brett McCreight was a fresh-from-high-school college freshman when he joined Campbell’s ROTC program in 1993. The product of a military family, McCreight grew up near Fort Liberty and chose Campbell because of its proximity and the ROTC program’s reputation.
That reputation was highlighted by the school’s ability to attract experienced soldiers who desired continuing their education or getting commissioned to improve their rank. At 18, McCreight shared classrooms with soldiers in their mid-20s … men who’d served in Panama and in Iraq for Operation Desert Storm. Their experience, their stories and their advice were just as important to McCreight’s education as the stuff taught in the classroom.
“Those former soldiers served as peer leaders,” says McCreight, now the secretary of general staff for the commanding general of the Army’s 29th Infantry Division. “Their knowledge is invaluable to me. They set the standard for the department. They were the strength of the program.”
He remembers Lt. Col. Robert Griggs, a Panama veteran who exemplified what combat arms leadership was all about. He “walked the walk and talked the talk,” McCreight says, and was just as smart as he was physically accomplished. He also remembers Desert Storm veteran Kevin Perera, the leader of their Ranger Challenge team. Physical, intellectual, charismatic … leadership qualities McCreight remembers vividly 20 years later.
“I was never more challenged — physically or mentally — than I was while a student at Campbell. Not even during active duty,” says McCreight, who helped start the Camel Company Alumni Scholarship Fund in 2011. “Even then, Campbell had very high standards for performance and professionalism in its ROTC program. I taught ROTC at another university a few years ago, and the standards we had at Campbell for planning, organization and training were higher back in the early 90s than they were at this school. That’s something I hope remains true today at Campbell.”
McCreight wouldn’t be disappointed. In addition to its recent Military Friendly and Best for Vets accolades, Campbell University is annually ranked in the Top 15 percent of the nation’s ROTC programs. In 2012, Campbell had eight cadets place in the Top 10 percent of nationally ranked ROTC seniors, more than any other civilian school in the nation. Then-senior John LeBaube ranked second individually (out of 5,500 cadets in the U.S.) in the order-of-merit rankings, which combines GPA, fitness test performance and performance in ROTC training. His achievement was only topped by Perera and Yancy Baer, who was the top ROTC graduates in the U.S. (and winner of the Pentagon’s Hughes Trophy) in 1996 and 2001 respectively.
Campbell grads have also won seven of the past 10 Gen. Maxwell D. Thurman Awards, given each year to the state’s top ROTC grad. And the list of accolades doesn’t stop there.
Campbell Battalion has commissioned new lieutenants into the Army’s ranks every year since 1973. Many of those graduates have fought in wars. Some have died serving their country.
Almost as valuable as the training it has provided, Campbell ROTC has created lasting memories for its graduates.
“My wife and I, neither of us remember much about high school except maybe the prom or other events, but we both vividly remember our college experience,” says Glenn Hedrick IV, a 2005 Campbell graduate and former Blackhawk helicopter pilot during the war in Afghanistan. “It was a phenomenal growing experience for me. I made most of the friends I have today there, and I benefited from the smaller classes and the one-on-one time with my instructors. It was both a great educational and military experience for me.”
For Pethan, taking part in the annual Ranger Challenge — a regional and national competition between ROTC programs that tests knowledge, skill and physical fitness — was his biggest thrill while at Campbell. He says that as much as anything helped shape the kind of person and leader he would become.
“In my high school athletic career — whether it was track, football or wrestling — our teams were always average. At [the Ranger Challenge], we went out and performed at a high level and won a very prestigious competition,” Pethan says, pointing to the large framed photo of him and his Challenge teammates on his office wall. “And it was a big deal. It taught me a lot about myself — what I had to do physically and mentally to succeed in a very demanding competition. Still today, it’s the fondest memory I have of this ROTC.”
“The obligations of citizenship are constantly under re-examination. The issues of citizenship and democracy are greatly intensified on our college and university campuses. It is only right that such issues be closely examined and debated here. The ROTC program offers such an opportunity.”
— Dr. Norman A. Wiggins, Campbell’s third president
Legend has it Wiggins was driving to Buies Creek on a hot June day in 1967, listening to the radio when a news alert interrupted his music — Egypt and Israel have gone to war. Two days later, a U.S. vessel just outside of Egypt’s waters is attacked by Israeli jets and boats, killing 34 and injuring 171 sailors.
The U.S. was already heavily involved in the Vietnam War, an unpopular war on the homeland that led many universities and colleges to dissolve their ROTC programs out of fear of clashes between civilian students and the military.
Wiggins thought differently, however. He believed Campbell, already close in proximity to one of the nation’s largest Army bases at Fort Liberty, needed a military presence more than ever to inspire a sense of patriotism and drive in all students. He turned to Lt. Col. Richard Meyer, a Vietnam veteran, to launch an ROTC program in Buies Creek. And on Jan. 28, 1971, Campbell’s unit was made official under General Order No. 4, Third United States Army. At the time, Campbell was the only college in the Southeast to offer a major in military science.
Two years later, Campbell College commissioned its first officer, Second Lt. Darryl Reardon. It added Methodist College to its battalion in 1976, and in 1977, Campbell’s first woman was commissioned, Second Lt. Diane Fuller.
After his retirement as president, Wiggins became the program’s 1,000th commissioned officer in 2005 [an honorary commission for his “unwavering support”]. Today, Campbell Battalion consists of more than 250 cadets, about 100 of them in Buies Creek.
But Campbell’s military presence goes well beyond its ROTC program. Whether it’s through main campus, online education or one of Campbell’s three satellite campuses (Fort Liberty/Pope, Camp Lejeune and the Research Triangle Park), more than 700 veterans or current military personnel are enrolled at Campbell University.
Campbell’s Military Friendly and Best for Vets status is attributed to the services the university provides to those in the military wishing to further their education. Each campus has a separate veterans affairs certifying official who acts as the liaison between veteran students and the Deptartment of Veterans Affairs. These officials are tasked with explaining benefits, providing guidance on procedural requirements and helping with registration and enrollment.
Campbell is part of the Yellow Ribbon program, which allows it to help fund tuition and fee expenses for veterans. It also provides tuition assistance and scholarships to active duty, National Guard, Reserve or veterans. That assistance pays up to $250 per credit hour.
The university is also known in military circles for its willingness to help veterans take previous college credits or even training and transfer that toward a degree at Campbell.
“When they come to Campbell, they’re greeted by friendly faces who want to help them and want to make the process as easy as possible,” says Maj. Chris Psaltis, Campbell’s recruiting operations officer. “I can’t count how many times a soldier came back to me and said, ‘Sir, you were right. They took care of me, and they helped me every step along the way.’ We’ve heard stories of other schools who wouldn’t even return phone calls to get a proper evaluation done. Our faculty and staff seem to bend over backwards to accommodate these soldiers.”
MSgt. Matthew Gooch, a 34-year-old Campbell ROTC junior and Iraq veteran, said he applied to George Washington, Appalachian State, Clemson and other schools a few years back when he decided to pursue a degree in health science. He was already close to a different degree at Western Carolina before opting for a different route, and he found that “it wasn’t even close” when it came to the assistance and credit transfers that Campbell offered.
“The way everyone went out of their way to streamline my credits and apply them toward the degree I wanted — it was a huge help,” Gooch says. “Why is Campbell ‘military friendly?’ It’s the way they make continuing your education so easy.”
Pethan says “military friendly” starts with one person — current Campbell President Jerry Wallace.
“He embraces the relationship this school has with Fort Liberty,” Pethan says. “He understands the importance of the student veteran population of this university and our satellite programs. He understands that if we are a military friendly organization, veterans will flock here. And they do. It all starts with the front office and the senior leadership of this school. Their support and the way they’ve embraced the military has made this program what it is today.”
A big part of what makes Campbell’s ROTC program a success is the students. Campbell Magazine profiled five of Campbell’s cadets this spring — from young, fresh-out-of-high school students to seasoned war veterans. Their stories are as diverse as the program itself.
The Mentor | Matthew Gooch, 34
Junior from Oklahoma
He’s been a salvage diver. A military freefall instructor. A Ranger. A Sapper. A medical sergeant. He’s been deployed three times to Iraq, the last two as a Green Beret. Today, after 15 years of service, Matthew Gooch has a new role in the U.S. Army.
At 34, Gooch is one of the older members of Campbell University’s nationally acclaimed ROTC program. The junior is working on a degree in health sciences and hopes to pursue a career in the medical field upon graduation … which won’t come too long before the age Gooch can officially retire. Not that “retirement” is in his plans.
“I won’t have to wonder what I’m going to do after the military,” he says with a smile. “It’s taken me 15 years, but I know what I want now. And this is the best route.”
This route isn’t uncommon for ROTC students at Campbell University. Because of the school’s proximity to the nation’s largest Army base, Fort Liberty, many Campbell students have prior military experience before joining the program. That pool of experience is used as a recruiting tool for younger students because of the built-in mentors they’re provided. But few in the program can match Gooch’s military resume, which almost made him too qualified for ROTC, he says.
“I became a master sergeant E-8 in 12 years, and getting that rank so quickly almost closed the door for me here,” he says. “I’m too old, have too much rank and spent too much time in the service. Those were three pretty big things stacked against me.”
But Gooch ran the idea up his chain of command, which overrode the “nos” and OK’d his decision to pursue his education on the Army’s time. Now, instead of retiring in about 10 years, Gooch is starting over. And the Campbell ROTC program is getting a seasoned veteran who loves the role of “mentor” for the University’s younger cadets.
He calls the story “comical” and even laughs while telling it. Gooch is in Iraq, working out of a little clinic near a series of trailers (“little cities,” he calls them) on his base. He hears an explosion, followed by the on-base alarm for incoming rockets | part of the comedy in his tale, he says. As he hears more incoming and return fire, Gooch darts out of the clinic into an open area and heads for a bunker. The ground shakes with each explosion | and in that moment of despair, Gooch realizes he deserves a “genius award” for leaving a relatively safe clinical building to run across a much less protected open area to reach his bunker.
After the rocket attack, he realizes he was in the right place at the right time. Had he been 100 meters away when the rockets struck, this wouldn’t be nearly as comical, he thinks.
“My first year in Iraq, we got rocketed just about every Tuesday and Wednesday night,” he says. “You could set your watch to it. It tore up buildings, blew up trucks … those next mornings, you just go out and see what you had to fix.”
Gooch has shared these experiences with his fellow cadets, many of whom offer him as much respect and hold him in as high esteem as the program’s professors and officers. And Gooch has earned it.
During that first deployment in Iraq, he worked as a salvage diver | going underwater in the Tigris and Euphrates rivers to pull out weapons and conduct body searches. “I pulled a lot of soldiers from the water,” he recalls. “I’ve seen a lot of death.”
His second and third visits to Iraq were with the Army’s Special Forces, known widely as the Green Berets, a group tasked with unconventional warfare and counter-terrorism, among other duties. In this role, Gooch helped train Iraqi nationals to fight and took part in several missions, including enemy searches, cache recovery and improving and rebuilding the infrastructure of areas hit hard by the war.
Gooch embraces the role of mentor and “seasoned vet” in ROTC, but says younger students offer him something in return | advice on how to be a student again.
“Being out of school for 15 years, I benefit on the academics side from these younger students,” he says. “The ROTC program purposely aligns upperclassmen with younger students, and the program at Campbell is full of Special Forces veterans, Rangers and others who have a wealth of experience and qualifications. It’s a huge part of what makes this program a success.”
Gooch credits his wife (his role model), a lawyer and William & Mary graduate, for his decision to become a student again and pursue a career after the military. When he graduates, he’ll become a commissioned officer, which includes more responsibility than that of a non-commissioned officer, even one as highly ranked as him. The father of two children | ages 3 and 4 | Gooch’s biggest challenge today is juggling his family life with 18-hour semesters. Despite being a self-proclaimed “average student,” he made the Dean’s List last fall, benefiting from a stringent work ethic he developed over the past 15 years. He says he’s happy with the choices he’s made, and he’s excited about his future.
“My grandfathers and brothers were all in the military, and my initial goal was to just be your average guy who goes for a few years, gets his college money and runs,” he says. “But I fell in love with it. I’ve had so many jobs and so many experiences. I don’t know of any other career where you can have that much diversity.”
ESCAPE FROM L.A. | Natali Juarez, 27
Junior from Los Angeles, Calif.
South Central Los Angeles is a long way from Buies Creek. And Natali Juarez has come a long way since growing up there.
The 27-year-old Campbell University junior is well on her way to graduating in 2015 and entering the Army’s physician assistant program to pursue a career in the medical field. It’s a far cry from where she was 10 year ago | a teen searching for her identity, working full-time in a donut shop to support her family while going to school, and dealing with a brother involved in drugs and gangs while doing everything she could to avoid that lifestyle.
“It’s easy to fall into that kind of life,” says Juarez. “The gang my brother was in, I knew they’d take care of me. I had the mentality that no one could touch me as long as they watched over me. But I never liked seeing people get hurt. I couldn’t live with watching someone have something taken from them from someone with no remorse or no regret.”
Juarez witnessed violence too often. Twice, her brother’s car was shot at while she was a passenger (neither were hurt both times). And once, her brother asked if she would drop off a bag full of drugs a few blocks away for $100.
She refused. And not long after, she got serious about finding a way out. That escape came in the form of an after-school work program and a dentist in West Los Angeles who would change Juarez’s life.
“I was a very efficient assistant and very eager to learn, and she loved that,” Juarez says. “She says she never had somebody as determined as I was. Other students who worked for her in the past took what they had for granted, but for me … this was my only way to succeed in life. It was the only thing I had going for me.”
Juarez started out part time and dropped out of high school to work full time to eventually earn her certificate as a dental assistant. Her boss not only taught her to speak fluent English and helped her earn her GED, she also offered to put Juarez through her first year of college.
“That’s when reality set in,” she says. “I knew I couldn’t focus on work, get good grades in college and support my family at the same time. That’s when I began looking at the Army.”
Free college. Previous school loans taken care of. Solid health insurance and other benefits. Job security. A chance to travel the world and, more importantly, get out of Los Angeles.
The Army looked more and more attractive to Juarez after her first meeting with the recruiter. After deciding to join, she told her boss and mentor the news, and the news wasn’t well received.
“She was disappointed … disappointed that I would give dentistry up,” Juarez says. “But I told her she wasn’t seeing everything else I was dealing with at the time — providing for my family, living where I lived, making what I made and trying to find a place to rent in Los Angeles. That life wasn’t going to cut it. So I did it. I joined the Army.”
Juarez started basic training shortly after her 22nd birthday in South Carolina | a true culture shock for someone who’d spent their life in the rough parts of L.A. But she embraced the new scenery, and above all else, loved meeting other trainees from all over the world.
“Women from New York, Boston, Texas … they were from everywhere,” Juarez says. “I considered myself somewhat of a ‘thug,’ and they were the opposite. They were more civilized, I guess. And I knew I wanted to be more like them.”
It wasn’t easy at first. Today, Juarez is one of the more quick-witted and energetic members of Campbell’s ROTC program; but just five years ago, she couldn’t fully drop the “attitude” she’d developed growing up. Physically, she was prepared for basic training. But mentally … that was a different story.
“I wasn’t suited to follow orders,” she says with a laugh. “I guess I had an attitude problem … a quick mouth and a quick temper. I began to realize I had to control my anger and begin to value everyone. Before the Army, Hispanics and African Americans, to me, were thugs. Then suddenly, I was in a completely different part of the world, and I was meeting Hispanic doctors, African American professors and instructors and so on. It’s sad that it took me 22 years to realize all of this. I know it wasn’t my fault, because of where I was raised. The Army changed the way I viewed others and myself.”
After basic, Juarez was assigned to Fort Liberty as an ammunitions specialist. She leaned on her experience in dentistry and was able to change her MOS (enlisted job) to dental assistant. In 2009, Juarez was deployed for 10 months to Iraq, where she did teeth cleanings for her brigade and Iraqi civilians and soldiers. She also taught basic hygiene courses and taught several Iraqis the proper way to brush and floss.
After her deployment, Juarez returned to Fort Liberty, where she began taking night classes at Campbell’s campus there. She began her junior year | her first in Buies Creek | last fall. So far, Juarez has fallen in love with a school that represents a complete 180 from the atmosphere she grew up in.
“I love how calm it is here, how quiet and how private it can be,” she says. “I knew I needed to be in a place with few distractions. And I like that it’s close to Raleigh and other cities, but not right next to it. I like this. It’s perfect for me.”
After Campbell, Juarez wants to apply for the Army’s physician assistant program. As a commissioned second lieutenant, she’ll be able to attend PA school and still be paid as an active duty officer. After that, she’s ready to go wherever the Army takes her.
“I want to retire in the military,” says Juarez, who’s still supporting her family back home with regular checks. “I’ll work until they kick me out. There’s security here. There’s structure. There’s discipline. And most important, it’s a challenge for me. Not long ago, I saw myself working at a donut shop for the rest of my life. Now I can do whatever I want | the Army is giving me the opportunity to challenge myself.”
The Right Team | Tomi King, 21
Senior from Fayetteville
From elementary school through high school, sports were Tomi King’s life.
Football, basketball, soccer, track, baseball … you name a sport, King played it — and was good at it. In fact, sports was the catalyst for his success in academics. His father made it clear that there would be no sports if King’s grades suffered.
His grades didn’t suffer. King excelled in the classroom (the only “C” that was allowed was in math, but even that was rare). And when it came time to look at colleges, he had several to choose from. He also had to decide whether or not sports would play a factor in his decision.
“I was focused on it so much in high school that I never seriously considered what I wanted to do later in life, career-wise,” says King. “I looked at smaller schools where I would have a chance to play, but I started listening to my parents, and their advice was to focus on education. That would give me the best opportunity to grow and be successful.”
Also tossed in for King’s consideration was ROTC. His father was in the military for 20 years before retiring, and he told his son that ROTC was a solid way to not only earn a scholarship, but help guide him toward whatever career he wanted.
It didn’t take much to convince King.
“Out of my entire family, my father is the most successful person I know,” he says. “I grew up in a military family, and I always equated the military with success. I didn’t know many other things I could do in life to be as successful as my father. So I’d always considered it, but up until it was time to choose a college, I didn’t know a lot about it.”
The Grays Creek High School graduate considered Wake Forest (his father’s alma mater) and Winston-Salem State, in addition to Campbell, but after his interview with Maj. Chris Psaltis, Campbell’s chief recruiting officer, King was leaning toward Buies Creek.
For someone who’d spent his life as a part of a sports program, King liked the team dynamic of Campbell’s ROTC program.
“I love being a part of a team, and I’ve learned the Army is the kind of team I was looking for,” King says. “It’s like a tight fraternity | the people I see every day here have become like family to me. Throughout all of our training, air assault school, different camps, all the classes, we’ve become tight. You spend four years living together, eating together, working together and training together, you develop a tight bond. I love that about the military.”
Like others who joined the program straight out of college, King has forged valuable friendships with other cadets with prior military service, many of whom served overseas in the Middle East before coming to Campbell. New cadets are accepted with open arms, King says, and the experienced soldiers are quick and eager to serve as mentors and talk about their deployments or what it takes to succeed in the military.
“They don’t look at this as just the Army. It’s their Army,” King says. “They harp on paying attention to the details. Even the little things can be the difference between life and death. They help you to not take your training for granted. It’s great insight, and it’s humbling to learn from them.”
King is set to graduate in May with a degree in homeland security. The new program | which was just a concentration when King began college | graduated its first students last fall, and King will be among the first to enter the “real world” with such a degree from Campbell in hand.
This summer, he’ll move to Jacksonville, Fla., where he’ll become an Army Reserves officer. Army Reserves requires a two-week obligation each year for training and further obligations in time of war or national emergency. While in Jacksonville, King will apply for work in federal law enforcement. His degree, ROTC experience, military background and recent internship for his father (now a contractor who works under Homeland Security in the private sector) make him confident he’ll find work early on.
“My dad once told me he thinks everyone should join the military,” King says. “He knows about the opportunities it opens up for you. He knows it gives you structure. Sometimes, that’s just what people need to succeed.”
A DIFFERENT ROUTE | Cierra Livecchi, 22
Sophomore from Rochester, N.Y.
“Absolutely not. You guys are insane.” This was Cierra Livecchi’s reaction to her father’s suggestion that she join the military after high school. The daughter of parents who met in the Air Force, Livecchi has family who served in every branch of the military, spanning generations.
It wasn’t that she completely hated the idea of following in their footsteps, it’s just that she wanted to go a different route in her life, she says. But in the months following her high school graduation (before enrolling into the local community college), Livecchi reconsidered her father’s suggestion.
“I’m a spur-of-the-moment type of person, and after I agreed to talk to an Army recruiter, I thought, ‘What’s it going to hurt if I join?’” she says. “As quick as that, I enlisted and was on my way to basic training in Fort Sill, Okla. I look back now, and I’m not sure why I was ever opposed to it.”
That journey that began in February 2010 eventually led Livecchi to airborne school, where she learned to jump from planes at 1,500 feet and land safely in a combat zone. It led her to Fort Liberty, where she began training as a psychological operations officer, whose duty is to induce or reinforce behavior in other countries favorable to U.S. objectives. The training required her to take a foreign language, so Livecchi was put through a crash course in French.
Before long, she was sent to Germany to become part of a team that oversaw interagency operations with U.S. teams in Africa. In her nine months in Germany, Livecchi found herself working in the same buildings with high-ranking officials from the Departments of Defense and State. The experience sparked something in her, she says, and gave her an idea of what she wanted to do for the rest of her life.
“I was so interested in just about everything going on there,” she says. “I was fascinated seeing the way these agencies worked together and watching colonels and lieutenant colonels on a daily basis. I loved my time there, in the sense that I learned a lot.”
After her deployment, which included a short stay in Qatar, Livecchi decided to pursue college and looked into the Army’s Green to Gold program. After an honorable discharge, she looked at colleges with the idea that after graduation, she would re-enlist as an active duty officer or a reserve officer.
She chose Campbell | like many cadets who choose Campbell | because of her back-and-forth with recruiting officer Maj. Chris Psaltis, who told her about the school’s benefits and the ROTC program’s national rankings.
“I loved the small student-to-teacher ratio,” she says. “Once I started back, I’d forgotten how much I love going to school and learning. I’m so thankful I chose to come here.”
Last December, her decision to come to Campbell paid off in another way. Livecchi was among a handful of students who attended a speech and Q&A session from U.S. diplomat Julie Ruterbories, a foreign services officer with 20-plus years in the U.S. State Department. That day, Livecchi sat and listened to Ruterbories talk about her time in Azerbaijan in the mid-90s and her consular tours in London, Macedonia and Kosovo. Ruterbories provided inside tips about how to become a foreign services officer, what to expect in the application process, what career paths are available and more.
The experiences reminded Livecchi of her short time in Germany and confirmed her career goals of working for the State Department and traveling the world.
“It made me even more excited to achieve those goals,” Livecchi says of that December day. “I know it’s going to be hard to get in, but I’m the kind of person that when I want something, 95 percent of the time I’m going to get it. I know it will be a lot of work, but I fully believe I’m prepared for whatever it takes.”
That attitude is a far cry from the high school senior who thought the idea of joining the Army was insane. Today, her family of veterans and retired military are proud of her decision to join and the person she’s become.
“What parent wouldn’t be proud of their kid for taking on this kind of commitment and on top of that, going to a private university and getting a great education?” Livecchi says. “I know it, and they see it. Since joining the military, I’ve thrived and grown as a person immensely.”
Homeland focused | Caleb Rowell, 20
Sophomore from Hope Mills
This is where Caleb Rowell belongs.
The son of a man who served 21 years in the Air Force and grandson of a former Army pilot, Rowell’s lineage includes six generations who have served in the military. Born in Missouri, he’s lived on Air Force bases in California, Florida and Germany. When he was still young, Rowell and his family moved to Hope Mills, N.C., located a stone’s throw from the nation’s largest Army base. And not far from that base sits one of the nation’s top universities for military personnel and veterans.
“My dream was always West Point, which I received nominations for, but ultimately didn’t get in on my first try,” says Rowell. “But I looked into Campbell and really liked what its ROTC program had to offer. I saw that it produces more Army officers than any other college with the exception of military academies. I thought I’d come here and maybe try for West Point again the next year, but after two weeks, I said, ‘I’m gonna stay.’”
“I like it here,” he adds. “The cadre knows their stuff. Everything about this place is awesome.”
In an ROTC program that includes its fair share of prior-service military and war veterans, Rowell | a recent high school graduate | is a pup. But he’s spent his whole life learning from men who’ve served in times of war, so Rowell says he appreciates the opportunity to learn from those with experience.
“You learn from these guys, just like you do from professors. They have the experience, and you don’t,” Rowell says. “There’s medical service guys, infantry guys, law guys … we have a little bit of everything here. But that’s the way the Army is set up, too.”
The icing on the cake for Rowell | the Campbell incentive that really tells him he’s chosen the right school | actually comes from the university’s criminal justice department and not the ROTC program.
In 2010, shortly before Rowell’s arrival in Buies Creek, Campbell launched a new homeland security concentration, and in the fall of 2013 (the start of Rowell’s sophomore year), Campbell became the first university in the state to offer homeland security as an undergraduate degree.
“This degree, on top of becoming a commissioned officer in the Army, will give me a heads up when it comes time to compete for jobs after graduation,” Rowell says. “I want to do something along security lines, and with this degree, I can work for state level or federal level agencies.”
In ROTC, he’s learning from men and women with experience, and homeland security is no different. The program is led by David Gray, a retired Air Force officer who spent a career working for several government agencies | including the CIA | before his career took a dramatic turn on Sept. 11, 2001.
He’s since completed assignments for the departments of Defense, Energy, Security, Justice, State and Homeland Security, and prior to coming to Campbell, Gray taught homeland security and terrorism courses at several schools, including UNC-Chapel Hill.
Rowell will take courses on national and international security, emergency preparedness and response, terrorism, intelligence and more. All of them are subjects that fascinate him.
This is where Caleb Rowell belongs.
“I knew what I wanted to do as soon as I got here, and today, I’m glad I ended up at Campbell University rather than West Point,” he says. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
Long before Campbell introduced ROTC on its campus, its young men fought and died in several wars. Keith Finch (’41), now in his 90s, is one of a dwindling number of World War II veterans still around to tell their tales. Finch showed farm boys how to become fighter pilots during the war, and didn’t escape without a few brushes with death himself.
By Billy Liggett
Keith Finch | From farm boys to fighter pilots
More than 40,000 U.S. fighter pilots and airmen were killed during World War II. Many of them died in combat, while even more were killed in training crashes or operational accidents.
It was more dangerous to learn to fly than to actually fly a mission. Those who flew the required 30 missions had a 71 percent chance of not making it back alive.
“Gen. Sherman was right. War is Hell,” says Keith Finch, a 94-year-old WWII pilot and instructor and 1941 graduate of then-Campbell College. “Actually, it’s worse than that,” he adds, his voice trailing off. “It’s much worse.”
You might consider Finch one of the lucky ones. He spent most of the war training the men — many of whom would go from no flight experience to mid-air dogfights with skilled German aces in a matter of months — who had the most dangerous job in the war.
But Finch made his own luck. He was an instructor because he was one of the Army Air Corps’ best. He entered the Air Corps in the summer of 1941 after graduating from Campbell (the Air Force was still six years from existence) and was with his father at the Pinehurst Flight School six months later when he heard about the Japanese attack on the U.S.
“My father was with me, and we heard it on the radio,” Finch recalls from his home in Dunn. “He said, ‘Son, where is Pearl Harbor?’ I pointed west and just said, ‘It’s that way.’”
Days later, Finch was preparing for war. He knew heading in he had the flying skills, but he learned early on that he was also a great shot as well.
“I learned from dove hunting with my dad, you always shoot out in front to hit the dove,” Finch says. “I got to gunnery school, and it was the same concept, only the planes are going much faster. On graduation day, they posted our new stations, and I was a flight instructor. I about fell over … I just knew I was heading to England to fight. But I shot so well and flew so well, I was picked to be a flight instructor. An advanced flight instructor, actually.”
Today, it takes over a year, hundreds of hours of flight time and over a thousand hours of ground school to teach a college graduate to fly a fighter plane. In World War II, young men fresh off the farm were put into advanced flying machines and trained to fly them in months. Finch would start with making his students learn every knob, dial and lever in the cockpit of their P-40s. Before they left the ground, they’d have to pass a blindfolded cockpit check.
“I had to convince them the P-40 was safe, whether or not it really was,” Finch says. “I told my men, ‘You might not like to hear this, gentlemen, but I’m going to teach you to kill and not be killed. You have to fly this plane perfectly. You have to shoot these guns perfectly.’ I always thought that was a pretty good line,” he adds with a wink.
Finch’s first brush with death didn’t happen overseas. It happened over Georgia.
He was flying one of those P-40s from an aircraft carrier in Norfolk, Va., to a base in Alabama, when the combat-tested, bullet-riddled plane’s engine quit while flying at 10,000 feet near Atlanta. He radioed the nearest tower to tell them he was going down.
“The engine quit, and nothing would start up,” Finch recalls. “So I saw a wheat field, had to keep the landing gear up, and flew toward it. The engine caught fire, and that was all around me. I knew this was a problem.”
Finch thought about bailing from the plane, but he wasn’t much higher in the air than the top of the pine trees, so he stayed in. The impact tore the plane to shreds and shredded Finch’s legs pretty well, too. Otherwise, miraculously, Finch was able to walk away.
He saw action in the war, but war is Hell, and Finch prefers to talk about the men he taught these days. One of them was Hodges … just Hodges. He could fly a plane as well as Finch, and he learned to dogfight by practicing with Finch over U.S. soil. Finch taught him the art of the “tumble,” where a pilot would put the nose straight up into the air, hit a high altitude, then quit flying, letting the plane “flop around, tumble and spin” back down in a spiral dive before cutting the engines back on and flying away — a difficult escape maneuver, to say the least.
“I ran into Hodges a few years later, and I said, ‘What’re you doing here? I heard you were shot down,” Finch says. “Turns out, he was shot and hit, but he did the roll over and drop down, and landed safely in a field. He got out of his plane and walked over toward the Pyrenees.”
Finch heard stories of his pilots flying over marching Germans and “taking off heads, arms and legs.” On D-Day, thousands of fighter planes provided air support for the beach assault in Normandy. Finch says “half of our fighter planes” were destroyed in the Battle of the Bulge.
“I got gray-headed in one year,” Finch says. “I couldn’t stand it when one of my boys was killed. Virginia [his late wife] would ask me about it, and I couldn’t talk about it. It’s terrible when you send out 800 B-17s, each with 10-man crews, and only about 30 of them come back.”
The 40s did provide some good memories for Finch, who married the former Virginia Fitchett the October before he went to war [he named his fighter plane “Ginny,” after her]. Finch recalls having to fly planes across country from base to base and once getting to do it over the Grand Canyon. Feeling invincible like any young man in his 20s, Finch flew into the canyon and followed the path of the river — creating a memory that makes him smile to this day. He remembers scaring a friend of his in Lillington by taking his plane from 20,000 feet down to 80 while that friend was on a tractor, minding his work. The fly-by scared the man so much, he jumped from the tractor and took off for the woods.
Word of his stunt reached his father, who raised an eyebrow while picking his son up at Pope Field and told Finch to refrain from doing that again.
Finch was stationed in San Francisco and ready for his orders to fight in the Pacific on the day the U.S. dropped a nuclear bomb on Japan, all but ending the war.
“They dropped the bomb, and we stayed home,” he says. “That probably saved my life. Had we kept fighting, we were going to lose a million more men, they told us. It wasn’t looking good.”
After the war, Finch became a successful entrepreneur and businessman with Finch Construction Company and Finch Oil Company. Finch Construction built several dorms at Campbell University, and in 1989, Finch served the first of three non-consecutive terms as a Campbell University trustee. In 1980, he was named a Distinguished Alumnus by the university, and in 2000, he was awarded an honorary degree of Doctor of Laws from Campbell.
He lost Virginia in 2011. The couple had three children, five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Edward Pethan | A leader molding leaders
If Edward Pethan (’89) has one regret, it’s that he didn’t hold on to the little slip of paper he wrote on back in January 1984, just days before he left for basic training in the year following his high school graduation.
On that 3-by-5 paper, Pethan wrote down all the things he hated about farm life. The son of farmers in a “little bitty cheese town in Wisconsin,” as he describes it, Pethan had worked in the industry as long as he could remember — often in bone-chilling temperatures during those long Wisconsin winters — and while the Army wasn’t necessarily the “ideal” situation for him, he wanted to always remember that it could be worse. He could be shoveling manure or freezing in the fields at 4 a.m.
“When times were tough in the Army, especially during basic, I’d pull out that card and look at it,” Pethan says. “I don’t know what happened to it … but it provided me with a lot of inspiration during those early days away from home.”
Thirty years later, Pethan is a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army and a veteran of Operation Desert Storm. Last fall, he became only the second Campbell graduate to assume the role of professor of military science at Campbell, the head position for the school’s ROTC program. Pethan, a product of Campbell ROTC, was brought here in an interim role to replace Lt. Col. Michael Mason, and he’ll stay with Campbell after this semester to work with the athletic department.
Not that he always saw himself as a military man. While farm life wasn’t his ambition back in Wisconsin, neither was the Army. Pethan’s short-term plan after high school was to save money for community college and eventually transfer to a state school. His father asked him how he would pay for the second part of that plan and suggested the Army as an option.
“I used a couple of expletives,” Pethan recalls. “And, in short, said ‘No way.’”
His father called the recruiter anyway, and Pethan eventually came around to the idea of having his education paid for by the government in exchange for a few years of service. He was sent off to basic training in Fort Knox, Ky. Surprisingly, he enjoyed it. And he excelled at it, earning the Gauntlet Award as the top member of platoon. He then went on to “jump school” in Fort Benning, Ga., followed by his first assignment with the 82nd Airborne in Fort Liberty. While at Liberty, Pethan watched his roommate buckle down and take night classes at Campbell’s Liberty campus.
Interested in the idea of eventually becoming a commissioned officer, Pethan did the same, riding his bike at night from his apartment to the Liberty campus and back in all kinds of weather. In ’87, he applied for and earned Green to Gold Scholarship, allowing him to enroll that fall in Campbell’s ROTC program as a junior. He collected his money, bought a truck and moved to Buies Creek.
“Campbell’s program, even back then, had a great reputation,” Pethan says. “It was a much more conservative campus back then, but for a guy like me who needed to focus in order to get through the academic part of it, it was a great place to be.”
Pethan was an average student when it came to science, math, English and the basics, but he excelled in the ROTC program. He was an A student in his military courses and a member of the ROTC’s Ranger Challenge team that won the region’s annual competition of skill, physical ability and military knowledge.
“I’ll admit now that one of the reasons my GPA suffered was the time I put into the challenge,” he says. “I spent every moment I had training for the rope bridge, patrolling night or getting ready for the 10K march. The whole experience taught me a lot about myself and what I can do. It’s the fondest memory I have of this ROTC.”
Pethan graduated in ’89, and two years later, he was deployed to Iraq for Operation Desert Storm. He later served in Haiti in ’95 and in Kosovo in 2001. While in Kosovo — a peace enforcement mission that involved intercepting weapons and drug smugglers — Pethan met President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and presented a “fairly extensive briefing” on their mission to them. Two months later, Pethan received news of commercial airplanes flying into the World Trace Center in New York, the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and into a field in Pennsylvania.
Pethan would serve in the Middle East again in 2007 and 2008 before his retirement. He returned to work for Fayetteville State and Campbell Battalion as assistant PMS before taking over the lead role last fall.
“The basic duty of a PMS is to oversee the program, make sure we’re recruiting quality cadets and make sure the cadre instructors are qualified and competent,” Pethan says. “Teaching the MS4s (seniors) is the best part of this job. Don’t get me wrong, I love getting out and talking to new prospects or young cadets, but the opportunity to be in the classroom or on [field training exercises] with our seniors to coach, teach and mentor them … if I could do that every single day forever, it’d be my dream.”
On a cold, wet and windy mid-February day, members of Campbell University’s ROTC battalion went deep into the Buies Creek woods to train on the one-rope bridge. The exercise is part of the annual Ranger Challenge, often called the ‘varsity sport’ of Army ROTC.
HARDER THAN IT LOOKS
Few have ventured out into the wooded area beyond Campbell University’s soccer and softball fields. If they did, they’d come across a training ground for the school’s ROTC program. Complete with fox holes and the perfect layout for tactical exercises, the woods also offers a winding and, at some points deep, 15-foot-wide creek bed perfect for training on the one-rope bridge. The bridge is one of many competitions in the annual Ranger Challenge, where battalions compete for libertying rights of the best-trained ROTC unit. Even preparing for it is an exercise in itself — proper uniforms, rope belts properly knotted, helmets, protective eyewear, “weapons.” It’s a team-building exercise as much as it is physical training. Though don’t get us wrong — physically, it’s much harder than it looks.
IT TAKES TEAMWORK
For training purposes, Campbell’s ROTC is crossing a wide but not-very-deep creek bed. With training, however, the unit would be able to cross a river or lake (with a long-enough rope). The exercise begins with the cadets securing one end of the rope to an anchor. In this case, they’re using a tree. One cadet then crosses the body of water and secures the rope on the other end. Then one-by-one, team members hoist each cadet up to the rope, fasten them via a rope belt and hook, and the cadet crosses the water upside down, pulling themselves horizontally along the rope. The final cadet loosens the rope on his or her end and crosses the body of water like the first cadet, rope in hand.
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition
— William Shakespeare, “Henry V”
The idea for the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps began in the second year of the Civil War, 1862. The corps were part of the government’s requirement for new land-grant colleges, which had to focus on teaching agriculture, science, engineering and military science at the time.
ROTC officers today serve all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces, and in 2010, they constituted a third of all active duty officers in the military. ROTC programs are located in both military and civilian universities and colleges and in military junior colleges. ROTC is voluntary for students in civilian schools and, with few exceptions, required for students in military senior institutions and junior colleges.
ROTC is one of four ways to receive an appointment as a United States Army Officer. Graduates become second lieutenants upon commissioning and become platoon leaders in their respective fields. According to Lt. Col. Edward Pethan, Campbell’s interim professor of military science, new officers are in charge of anywhere between 10 and 50 soldiers to start.
“They serve with regards to their job title,” he says. “They may be an infantry platoon leader of an information technology department. Just about every civilian job that is offered in the U.S. is represented in the military as well.”
With each promotion and move up in rank, officers assume more responsibility and more soldiers.
While Campbell’s main campus in Buies Creek houses its ROTC program and is home to many current military servicemen and women and veterans, there are two Campbell campuses located on military bases in North Carolina as well. Both campuses offer eight-week evening and online courses to support Campbell’s accelerated degree options.
Fort Liberty/Pope Field
Since 1976, Campbell has had a home at Fort Liberty, today the largest Army base in the country. The campus serves both the Fort Liberty and Pope Field communities as well as the surrounding civilian population. Fort Liberty is home to the U.S. Army airborne forces and Special Forces, as well as the U.S. Army Forces Command and U.S. Army Reserve Command.
The Marine Corps Camp Lejeune campus is located near Jacksonville along the Atlantic coast. Established in 1987, the original location of this campus site was MCAS New River, but later expanded to the current site aboard MCB Camp Lejeune. Campbell University is one of seven universities with an instructional presence on base and only one of three universities offering undergraduate degree programs.
DISTINGUISHED ROTC GRADS
Lt. Gen. Susan Lawrence
The Army announced Lt. Gen. Susan S. Lawrence’s (’79) appointment as the Army Chief Information Officer/G-6 back in 2011, making her the first woman in Army history to hold the position. She was also the second female three-star general serving on active duty at the time, and the fourth woman to be promoted to the rank of lieutenant general in the Army.
In October 2013, Lawrence retired from the military after 41 years of service. In her farewell message, she wrote, “I am extremely proud to have served with every soldier, civilian and contractor who collectively make up the CIO/G6. I’m equally proud of what we have accomplished and the promise of achievements yet to come.”
Originally from Ida Grove, Iowa, Lawrence enlisted in the Army in 1972, and received her bachelor’s degree and commission as a second lieutenant from Campbell ROTC in June 1979. She also holds a master’s degree in information systems management from the University of Georgia.
Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Bannister
Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Bannister (’84) has been in high demand in recent years.
In 2013, he was promoted to the rank of major general and deputy chief of staff for the International Security Assistance Force for Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. Two years earlier, the then-brigadier general took over the Army’s Central Command in Tampa, Fla. And in 2009, he was promoted to 10th Mountain Division Assistant Division Commander for Operations at Fort Drum, N.Y. Before that, Bannister served in Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan and in several battalion and brigade leadership positions within the Army.
“I joined the Army because I had a brother that was in, and I kind of wanted to be a paratrooper like him. I wanted adventure,” Bannister said back in 2009. “I’ve worked hard, but I’ve always enjoyed it. And I always said as long as I enjoy it, I’ll continue to serve.”
His military career began in Buies Creek, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration. He went on to earn a masters in national security strategy from the National War College. He was named a distinguished alumnus of Campbell in 2009.
Lt. Col. Scott Rutter
It was Lt. Col. Scott E. Rutter’s (’83) unit, which assaulted the Iraqi Special Republican Guard and secured the Baghdad International Airport in Operation Iraqi Freedom. For this daring maneuver, his unit was broadly recognized, and Rutter was decorated with the Silver Star for his brilliant and deadly action.
Rutter retired from the Army after serving over 20 years in Air Assault, Light and Mechanized assignments in the desert, the Pacific and in the U.S. He served several years overseas and has deployed operationally to Saudi Arabia, Korea, Kuwait and Iraq. He has also served as a senior intelligence officer with the Defense Intelligence Agency.
In 2006, Rutter founded the Valor Network, created to attract and retain the highest quality medical and consulting professionals and provide them with dynamic opportunities to work.
A WEEK IN THE LIFE
Think a student with 15 hours of classes has it rough? Try taking on 15 hours, formations before the sun rises and a physical training regimen only a football or lacrosse player could appreciate. Sophomore Caleb Rowell shared what a typical week for a Campbell ROTC student looks like with Campbell Magazine:
Every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, ROTC students participate in strenuous physical training programs to prepare for the twice-a-year physical fitness test. A part of that training is AGRs, or “ability group runs,” which are about two miles in length with fellow students who run close to their same pace. There’s also muscular endurance training, which includes push-ups, sit-ups, arm claps and “burpees,” which are like squat thrusts. Cardio training includes running sprints, running up and downhill and doing lunges. And finally, there’s pool training, which includes swimming laps in Campbell’s aquatics center.
The physical fitness test also includes weight requirements in conjunction with a cadet’s height. “If you fail any event or any part of the test,” says Rowell, “you fail the test.”
Physical training days (Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday) begin with formation. Cadets are required to be in line at 0550 (5:50 a.m. to you civilians) standing at attention. The cadets then go through a series of stretches and exercises to prepare for the physical training. According to Rowell, MS2s (sophomores) are in charge of two to three MS1s (freshmen), and if their MS1 is late for formation, the MS2 is responsible.
“If my guy is not there, I have to find out why,” says Rowell, currently an MS2. “MS3s, or squad leaders, report to the platoon sergeant, who then reports to an MS4 or an MS3 first sergeant.”
The cadets are in uniform on physical training days and usually remain in uniform for other classes, especially if they don’t have a break in between. The exception is Thursday (lab day), where the uniform is required all day.
ROTC curriculum is divided into two distinct courses: Basic and Advanced. The Basic course is comprised of freshmen and sophomores and does not require any military obligation. The courses, taught by Capt. Lauren Shaw, cover topics such as Army organization, military traditions, basic leadership skills, decision making processes, map reading, intro to small unit tactics and basic soldier skills.
Advanced courses are junior- and senior-level classes and require students to commit to a military obligation. Once enrolled, the students participate in academic classes and leadership labs each semester and attend a 30-day Leadership Development Assessment Course in Ft. Lewis, Wash., during the summer of their junior and senior years. Students must carry at least a 2.5 GPA, reach a certain level on the fitness test and successfully pass a Department of Defense Medical Evaluation Review to make it to the Advanced level.]
Glenn Hedrick | Something worth fighting for
Glenn Hedrick IV (’05) looked up to Justin Smith during their time in Campbell University’s ROTC program. Hedrick was 18 and green, Smith was 26 and a veteran who served in the Army’s Special Forces in Iraq.
Both men were at Campbell to get an education and become a commissioned officer in the military. Smith mentored Hedrick and the other younger cadets and eventually became their friend.
“He was a great friend to us,” Hedrick recalls. “There was a group of five of us, and we hung out all the time. He took us under his wing, and he meant a lot to all of us.”
Months after Hedrick graduated, Smith was killed while serving in Iraq when a car bomb detonated near his patrol. Smith left behind a wife, an 8-year-old stepson and a 1-year-old son.
“He was extremely devoted to his country,” Hedrick says. “One of the most selfless men I ever met. For those of us who knew him and were about to be deployed ourselves, this was the first wake-up call that we could die or our friends could die. But his death motivated us. His dedication to this country and this military showed us this was something worth fighting and dying for.”
Hedrick would go on to become a helicopter pilot, flying Blackhawks in multiple deployments in Afghanistan, including a stint commanding the only U.S. Army aviation unit in Western Afghanistan. He has also flown security missions for President George W. Bush.
His first experience was flying several dangerous missions in Kabul, near the Pakistan border. He flew in bombing missions and witnessed a world much different than the one he grew up in in the U.S.
“I was 22 at the time, and I saw children with missing limbs, adults screaming for their mother in the back of a helicopter,” Hedrick says. “It was a growth experience for me. I became a man during that first deployment.”
He had a few scares as well. He successfully landed a Blackhawk after an engine fire over Afghanistan once — making it to a safe zone and avoiding having to land it in the middle of enemy territory. The operations center he worked out of was the target of a rocket attack, and avoided being in the middle of it by not being in his room at the time.
“The funny thing about combat is that during it, you’re not as stressed as you probably think you will be,” he says. “It’s surreal, but at the time, you’re moving by the numbers and doing what you’re trained to do. It’s not until you’re done and back at the base when you realize you probably should have been scared.”
Today, Hedrick is no longer in aviation and is currently attending the National Intelligence University in Washington, D.C. His wife, Laura, is a 2007 graduate of Campbell’s College of Pharmacy & Health Sciences.]