PILOT MOUNTAIN — East Surry graduate Caleb Mann is pursuing his dream in the ROTC program at Campbell University. The journey began nearly six years ago when Mann made the decision to enroll in ROTC.
Joining JROTC as a freshman at East Surry, Mann discovered a career path that had been unknown to him.
“I had no aspirations of joining the military,” said Mann.
After getting a glimpse of how the army works, Mann was impressed with the opportunities, structure, values, life lessons, professionalism, and level of respect.
He intended to enlist in the army straight out of high school. “I realized that going to a four-year university was not attainable financially,” said Mann, adding “I didn’t want to add another burden on my parents.”
Lt. Col. Richard Howe pointed Mann in a new direction, beginning the discussion about college. “He brought up a thing called an ROTC scholarship; I had never heard of it,” said Mann. The national scholarship could fund up to four years of tuition, books, room and board, and a living stipend for any school in the country. Mann applied for the scholarship, feeling good about the decision.
Along with being active in ROTC while in high school, Mann played soccer. “My senior year we had the most talented team East Surry had seen,” said Mann, noting that he put a lot of time and focus into the game. The team, led by Coach Bill Hart, had a good chance at the state championship.
During the fall of his senior year Mann lost one of his best friends and teammates, Jacob Pettit, to a car accident. “The entire soccer team was really down, like a dark cloud was over us,” said Mann, adding that his focus shifted away from school and sports.
“It was a time when I was really down, and not much mattered to me at that point. I was in a pretty dark place,” Mann recalled.
The first round of scholarship picks passed, bringing his spirits down further. After the second round, Mann still didn’t get any news. “My hope was becoming very dim, and I started to get incredibly anxious,” Mann said. Making a few calls, Mann discovered that mistakes had been made in the application, and Mann was required to resubmit in order to be considered.
Explaining that he felt lost without being able to confide in Pettit, Mann said, “I began praying.” Through his grief, Mann’s faith and the belief that God has a purpose, even when it is not understood, grew.
That spring Mann received the news he’d been waiting to hear. “After that I can easily say my life had been changed,” Mann said, explaining the impact the scholarship had on him.
Mann chose Campbell University during his first tour of campus, feeling an instant connection with the Baptist school. “I really was interested in Campbell because they have one of the best ROTC programs in the nation,” said Mann. Founded in 1887, the small school in Buies Creek has been associated with the military since 1976, serving the communities of Fort Bragg, Pope Air Force Base, and Camp Lejeune through their extended campuses.
Mann is a homeland security major and made the Dean’s list last semester. He is involved in ROTC, Future Army Leaders club, and multiple campus outreach groups. “I devote all the time I can to ROTC, to school, and to my faith,” said Mann.
Upon graduation, Mann will be commissioned into the army as a second lieutenant. “I plan on making the army a life career,” said Mann, explaining that he is interested in becoming an aviation pilot or doing military intelligence.
“I can say without a shadow of a doubt that I owe a lot of my success to First Sergeant Ronald Montgomery,” said Mann, adding, “I don’t think he gets the credit that he should.” Mann also shared his gratitude for his parents, all the teachers at East Surry, and the Pilot Mountain community.
Diane Blakemore may be reached at 336-368-2222 or on twitter @PilotReporter.