Top Cadet in Our Ranks

Campbell student is nation’s second-highest ranked ROTC cadet

Story by Billy Liggett

John LeBaube was 18 when the United States was attacked on Sept. 11, 2001.

That was the day he developed a desire “to do something more,” he said. A freshman in college at the time, LeBaube wanted to join the U.S. Army.

“I wasn’t focused … my heart wasn’t in the right place,” said LeBaube, now 29. “I felt like the military was where I needed to be.”

The Browns Summit, N.C., native served his country twice in Afghanistan between 2007 and 2009, and it was after that second deployment when he began thinking about his future.

LeBaube wanted to go back to school.

Eleven years since his decision to follow his heart and leave school, LeBaube is now ranked as one of the top ROTC students in the country. Second, to be exact.

Each year, Cadet Command in Fort Knox, Ky., compiles an order-of-merit list identifying its top 20 percent of ROTC seniors. These future military officers are designated as “Distinguished Military Graduates,” based on their GPA, their performance in the Army Physical Fitness Test and college athletics and their performance in ROTC training.

Of the more than 5,500 senior cadets in the U.S., LeBaube is ranked second, behind Patrick J. Lupfer of Northeastern University in Boston.

LeBaube said his one advantage is his previous military experience, as many ROTC students are fresh out of high school. He said he thought he had a good chance to be in the top 10 or 20 percent, but the news of being No. 2 in the nation was surprising.

“I don’t know how exactly I reacted, but I was excited and happy about it,” LeBaube said.

The achievement means LeBaube will get to choose his branch after graduation (the Army has 26 branch choices for future second lieutenants) and his station.

According to Cadet Alyssa Kulhanek, Campbell’s cadet public affairs officer who’ll graduate with LeBaube in 2013, LeBaube’s success speaks well for the ROTC program as a whole.

“It shows that what we do here works,” Kulhanek said. “We have a quality program. Campbell may be a small school compared to other ROTC programs, but we have a higher standard, and we consistently meet that standard to create quality officers.”

The program had a total of eight cadets place in the top 10 percent nationally, more than any other non-senior military school in the nation (senior military schools include schools like VMI, the Citadel and Texas A&M).

Campbell Professor of Military Science Lt. Col. Michael Mason said those figures, plus Campbell’s performance in recent years, make it “quite possibly the best ROTC program in the nation.”

“It’s a pretty bold statement,” he said. “But certainly for 2012-2013, we can lay claim to the top spot based on our numbers alone.”

LeBaube said his decision to return to school and enroll at Campbell came about from working with three other men at an aid station in Fort Liberty. One of his friends, he said, was working toward his master’s degree. Another was finishing up his bachelor’s degree at Campbell in hopes of entering med school. The third joined LeBaube in Campbell’s ROTC program.

“We all motivated each other,” he said. “They were looking to the future, and that got me thinking about what my future would look like.”

That future, LeBaube hopes, will involve work as a pilot in the Aeromedical Evacuation (MEDEVAC) program.