Back in the spring of 2014, in an interview for a cover story on the ROTC program for Campbell Magazine, 34-year-old junior Matthew Gooch stressed the importance of being a strong mentor for the program’s underclassmen, especially those coming straight out of high school with no military experience.
“Campbell’s ROTC program purposely aligns upperclassmen with younger students — Campbell is full of Special Forces veterans, Rangers and others who have a wealth of experience. It’s a huge part of what makes this program a success.”
A few months later, Gooch embraced his mentor role as a senior, and one of those wide-eyed, inexperienced incoming freshmen was a young man from Ararat, North Carolina, named Caleb Mann.
Mann, whose childhood was filled with toy Army guns, uniforms and big dreams of becoming a soldier, says he chose Campbell because of the reputation of its ROTC program, recipient of two consecutive MacArthur Awards as one of the top programs in the nation. Part of that reputation is the co-existence of students with previous military experience (in Gooch’s case, he’s a veteran of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan) and students whose only military involvement was JROTC training in high school.
Mann says he entered his freshman year as a sponge.
“These are grown men and women who’ve been doing this for five to 10 years,” he says. “To be surrounded by adults who’d been through the stresses of the Army and who were able to break down that experience into a level of understanding for people like me, it played a huge part in my maturing process. There’s a huge difference between learning from real mentors and learning from a bunch of 18-year-olds who are just like you. These upperclassmen expect a lot out of you. And when you get to the Army, if you’re not grown up, it will show … especially as an officer.”
Mann will walk in Saturday’s main campus spring commencement ceremony. A week later, Mann will go to Basic Officer Leader Course and spend 19 weeks at Fort Stewart in Georgia.
The lessons he learned from seniors like Gooch and Natalie Juarez during his freshman year helped Mann become that same kind of leader during his junior and senior years at Campbell.
“Their leadership and the seniors who helped me prepare for my MS3 exam my sophomore year made me a better leader later one,” Mann says. “I’m not saying I did as good of a job as my peers before me, but I did my best to find underclassmen to take under my wing. Having that means the world to a freshman. That’s how the Army works — take what you learn and pay it forward.”
Mann will earn his degree in homeland security on Saturday — the degree and his ROTC training, he says, have prepared him well for a career as a military policeman.
“Law enforcement has always been a big thing for me,” he says. “I’ve always wanted to be a soldier, but my backup plan was always to become a police officer or officer at the federal level. Military police officer is a great way to use my degree and my training.”