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Commissioning Ceremony Adds Two Mississippi College Graduates to Army National Guard Ranks

James Brooks, second from left, and Caleb Hall, third from left, recite the Oath of Commissioned Officers during the commissioning ceremony April 29.
James Brooks, second from left, and Caleb Hall, third from left, recite the Oath of Commissioned Officers during the commissioning ceremony April 29.

A pair of Mississippi College students have realized their lifelong dream of becoming military officers, thanks to the joint Reserve Officer Training Corp program offered by MC and Jackson State University.

James Brooks, a business administration major from Madison, and Caleb Hall, an administration of justice-homeland security major from Cumming, Georgia, became second lieutenants in the Army National Guard during a commissioning ceremony on April 29. Both are members of the ROTC “Tiger Battalion” and May 2023 graduates of Mississippi College.

Brooks and Hall were among seven uniformed cadets who recited the Oath of Commissioned Officers, had their backgrounds read to an audience of family members and friends, received pins bearing their new rank, and offered their first salute. Each MC graduate said they were honored to participate in the traditional ceremony.

“Not only do I get to share the hard work given in the last three years,” Brooks said, “but I also get to share my service with a group of people who have the most significance in my life.”

The ceremony was a family event for Hall, whose maternal grandfather, U.S. Air Force Technical Sergeant Jerry Smailes, and paternal grandfather, U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sergeant Rick Hall, pinned his rank, and whose father, U.S. Marine Corps Sergeant Chad Hall, offered him his first salute.

“I am honored to have my family and friends’ support,” Hall said. “It is truly a blessing and a humbling experience.”

According to Teresa Hill, director of military and veteran student services at MC, Hall has exhibited extraordinary leadership qualities throughout his undergraduate career. A member of the Choctaw men’s cross country and track teams, he also served as chief justice in the Student Government Association.

Recruited to MC by Matthew Reneker, head cross country and track and field coach, Hall said the administration of justice program fits well into his academic plans.

“The department offered a great learning environment and professors who were extremely knowledgeable and provided students with excellent direction in what to do moving forward,” he said.

Hall had attended Basic Combat Training to experience what it is like to be an enlisted soldier. After a year of drills, he signed his ROTC contract.

“The biggest reason I wanted to join the service was to honor my family and country,” Hall said. “They inspired me to join and encouraged me to commission.”

He said one of his greatest challenges in the ROTC program became one of the most rewarding: working with others.

“Initially, we all had different visions and ideas on what directions the program could take, our leadership skills, and where we wanted to go after college,” he said. “The goal was to find a common purpose where we could see clearly as a team and push each other and the program in a positive direction.

“The most rewarding aspect was diving into a diverse environment and developing relationships between MC, Jackson State, and other schools in Mississippi and outside the state. Being a part of the Tiger Battalion has been a great experience, especially working with my peers whom I can now call my friends.”

After receiving an associate degree from Holmes Community College, Brooks wasn’t interested in entertaining additional academic pursuits – he had wanted to become an officer in the U.S. Military since childhood. After completing a Basic Training cycle and Advance Individual Training, he obtained his bachelor’s degree.

A friend who was a student at MC told him about the Christian University that had been recognized as a Military Friendly© institution. When he visited the Clinton campus, he found the perfect fit for his career goals.

“As I started to consider schools, MC was a perfect place not only for advancing my military training, but also obtaining the business degree that I desired,” Brooks said. “It offered a schedule that worked exceptionally well with the timeline I had established.

“After experiencing the environment at MC, I felt called to obtain a degree from a prestigious school while becoming an officer in the U.S. Military.”

His greatest challenge was navigating between MC’s Clinton campus and Jackson State’s downtown location for the myriad classes and events in which he participated.

“I had to learn the concept of time management,” he said. “but the most rewarding part of participating in the ROTC Program is getting to experience a diverse culture.”

Mississippi College reinstated ROTC classes in 2007 in partnership with the program offered at Jackson State that began in the late 1960s under then-JSU president John A. Peoples Jr., who served in the U.S. Marine Corps. MC supports students in both Air Force ROTC and Army ROTC programs.

“ROTC courses teach invaluable leadership and critical-thinking skills that are necessary for leading, managing, and motivating people,” Hill said. “These skills are needed as students launch from their pre-degree years into their careers.

“These courses teach students essential and valuable skills before they enter into the workforce that otherwise would not be gained until they have had on-the-job and life experiences.”

She said ROTC cadets find the training and experience they receive in the program beneficial, whether they pursue a military or a civilian career. Employers value the management and leadership skills that ROTC instructors stress.

The ROTC is not considered active military or counted as military service. Students can enroll in the basic ROTC courses during their first two undergraduate years. They must serve in the military only if they enter advanced ROTC courses or receive an ROTC scholarship.

ROTC scholarships pay up to full tuition, mandatory fees, a book allowance, and a tax-free monthly stipend to defray the cost of living. Scholarship winners generally serve four years on active duty. For more information about ROTC scholarships, click here.

Brooks said the ROTC Program offered at MC helped him develop work-life balance, stress management, and critical-thinking skills – essential tools for his first professional assignment.

“After graduation, I am set to attend a National Guard conference, immediately followed by starting my employment with a fantastic group of people known as Trace Advisory Group,” he said. “My goal at the end of my service time is to become a one- or two-star general.”

Hall will return to Georgia to become associated with his unit and attend Basic Officer Leader Course training. In addition to his National Guard duties, he is seeking federal law enforcement opportunities.

“Being a part of MC and the Army ROTC, I have had the opportunity to learn more and develop leadership, communication, and teamwork,” he said. “These three skills are vital to any career field when working with peers and others to succeed in a task or goal.

“I am genuinely thankful for the opportunities that Mississippi College and Jackson State University ROTC, Tiger Battalion, have offered me. I hope more students interested in the military look into joining ROTC as they can provide career options in any field and the opportunity to enhance life skills that stretch outside of the military.”