Monday, April 28, 2008

We need more people like Caleb Campbell

After I read that ESPN post a few weeks ago, I decided that I really wanted to put my two cents in, as someone who is close to the Army, and to football. So here goes...

Former United States Military Academy (Army) defensive back Caleb Campbell was selected by the Detroit Lions as selection #218 in the NFL Draft. For Campbell, basically, this means that he heads to Detroit instead of Iraq.

I was lucky enough to interview Caleb twice at the Army-Navy game in Philadelphia in 2005 and 2006, and I remember being very impressed by him - not primarily because his stature, which is very big for a Cadet (6-foot-2, 229-pounds), but by his maturity in the face of adversity and defeat (Army had lost on both occasions to Navy - and by lost, I mean BIG). To see how he reacted in the face of defeat - humbled, but strong. And though he took the loss hard, you could tell he knew it wasn't the end of the world. In other words, the perfect Army officer.

Campbell "embodies what the academy is all about, and that's what everyone in
this country should be trying to be," Millen said. "He's got skills, he's got
desire and he's going to get a great opportunity."

But Caleb is taking a different course that his fellow Cadets, for now at least. It is rare that a (former) cadet or plebe (from the Naval Academy) play in the NFL - it is even more rare for one to be selected in the draft, prven in the fact that Campbell was the first (and only) non-kicker in Military Academy history to be invited to the NFL Combine.

But Campbell going to the NFL isn't so cut and dry. The Army has regulations, and graduates of the Military Academy owe the Army five years of active service after their graduation in return for the free education they received.

So then, many of you may be asking how Campbell can even do this, go right to the NFL, since graduates of the Military Academy owe the military active service in return for their free education. Well, there is a very new Army regulation that offers its top athletes a side door to professional sports - West Point has implemented an alternative service option program that allows cadets to turn pro – and play – right away.

Cadets accepted into the program "will owe two years of active service in the Army, during which time they will be allowed to play their sport in the player-development systems of their respective organizations and be assigned to recruiting stations. If they remain in professional sports following those two years, they will be provided the option of buying out the remaining three years of their active-duty commitment in exchange for six years of reserve time." The Air Force Academy and Naval Academy do not offer such a program. Both academies require two years of active service upon graduation before presenting the option of swapping the final three years of active time for six years in the reserves.

So, if Campbell can get into the program, it's a simple choice, right? WRONG.

It seems like an obvious choice, that he would be thrilled that he doesn't have to go overseas... but for a man who chose to attend the Military Academy in a time of war, it certainly isn't so black-and-white.
Meanwhile, his former teammates and classmates all face the prospect of going to
war in Iraq, where more than 4,000 servicemen and women have been killed in the
war that's been going on for more than five years with no end in sight. Campbell
wouldn't hesitate to join them. "I didn't come to the academy to play football,"
he said. "I came to the academy to become an officer." He initially had
misgivings about passing up on the chance to lead a platoon."
Campbell CHOSE to attend Army, over many other schools, he knew that he would likely be going to war after he graduated. He didn't go to Army just to play football - he went to be a Soldier who played football on the side. Well, God gave Caleb athletic talent, and it is beyond that of almost anyone else who has ever donned a Army football jersey, and that in-and-of itself is a burden on Campbell's shoulders.

There are those who don't think he should get out of his active service, and there are those who don't think his recruiting mission equals that of what the other Cadets will have to do. While I agree that it isn't equal, I think the mission - recruiting - is just as important. In being a public figure, Campbell will help the Army in a very important, though different, way that he would have leading a platoon.

E:60 on ESPN did a package on Campbell before the draft... it's a good story, but I personally don't like the spin they took. it's almost like they're saying that is Campbell isn't drafted, he's heading to his death sentence in Iraq. Yes, he would likely, as a young lieutenant right out of West Point he would be heading overseas to Operation Iraqi Freedom or the Global War On Terror, but that is far from definite.

With the new Army regulations, Campbell, if he makes the Lions squad, will not be (literally) fighting for his country, but he WILL be actively serving the Army, through recruiting - and what young man thinking about going into the Army wouldn't listen to a professional football player, who also happens to be a Soldier?

It's not the typical Cadet route, but then again, Caleb Campbell isn't the typical Cadet.

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