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Leading by Example: French ’18, Jackson ’18 Commissioned to U.S. Army

Second Lts. Morgan French '18 (L) and Neil Jackson '18
Second Lts. Morgan French '18 (l) and Neil Jackson '18.

As college seniors across the country graduate this month, ROTC cadets prepare to assume their first jobs in the military. During a ceremony Saturday, Davidson cadets Morgan French '18 and Neil Jackson '18 commissioned as second lieutenants and will assume immersive leadership positions in the U.S. Army–and they're ready for it, said Capt. Luis Sanchez, assistant prof. of military science at Davidson. The experience and liberal arts education they received at Davidson makes them uniquely qualified for leadership, he said, and will set them apart in the short- and long-term.

Strength of Character

An injury junior year found field hockey scholar-athlete Hannah Fisher '18 on the bench. If not for her teammate, French, it could have been a lonely time for Fisher, attending practice but unable to participate; watching games from the sidelines but unable to play.

"Morgan was constantly checking on me, involving me in practice and talking to me while I was on the sidelines during games," Fisher said. "She always made me feel like I was still part of the team." Though competitive on the field–one of the traits Fisher loves most about her–French's  attentiveness to fellow friends and teammates never wanes. 

Early one morning Stefan DeShazo '19 prepared for his first tactical training as a new ROTC recruit, and walked out on his hall to an unexpected greeting from then-cadet Jackson, just back from study abroad in Jordan.

"He introduced himself right away, and he knew my name and who I was," DeShazo remembers. As a new recruit, that small gesture of validation from an upperclassman made a huge impact that marked the start of a close friendship. Now, Jackson is the loyal friend DeShazo turns to most in life.

Like Fisher and DeShazo, those who have come to know French and Jackson over the years speak to their abilities to lead groups with confidence, and quickly pivot to support individuals in times of need. As the newly commissioned graduates assume their roles as second lieutenants in the U.S. Army, their character, coupled with their liberal arts education and exceptional training, make them uniquely qualified for leadership, said Capt. Luis Sanchez, assistant prof. of military science at Davidson.

Lives of Leadership

"Being in a smaller, liberal arts school really makes you a better leader," Sanchez said. "In a smaller school you get moved to new duty stations a lot, and right when you feel comfortable in one you might move to a new organization, a new place, with different people of different backgrounds, and you have to adapt and be flexible and able to work together."

The cultural understanding and broad perspective gained through their liberal arts studies enhance their ability to lead, Sanchez said, because "in the Army, you never know where you're going to go next."

For French, the immediate "next" will be a Field Artillery Basic Officer Leadership Course in Fort Sill, Oklahoma, before assuming her Field Artillery post as second lieutenant at Fort Wainwright, Alaska, with the Second Battalion, Eighth Field Artillery.

She was drawn to field artillery because of the opportunities to work with different military branches and units, and because of the physical and mental challenges that come with the work. In Alaska she'll lead a platoon of 30-40 people and plans to approach the job as she approaches all challenges: with confidence, intention and leadership by example.

"I'm not the loudest or the most charismatic leader," French said, "but I lead by example. I show people what the right thing to do looks like–working hard, being disciplined. It's important to show you're not just saying it, you're also doing it."

During her time in ROTC, French attended Cadet Initial Entry Training at Fort Knox, Kentucky, a cultural immersion program at the Tadeusz Kosciuszko Land Forces Military Academy in Wrocław, Poland, and completed ROTC advanced camp at Fort Knox. Last summer she held an internship at the National Ground Intelligence Center in Charlottesville, Virginia, where she shadowed intelligence analysts and produced intelligence materials. She also completed the Special Operations Forces 101 course. This weekend she graduated as a Distinguished Military Graduate with a bachelor of arts in political science.

"French is one of the top cadets in the entire program, and she's among the top 20 percent in the nation," Sanchez said. "What really sets her apart is her knack for taking charge of things, and her disciplined approach. I have no doubt she'll be a successful platoon leader."

"Morgan works hard all the time–I know she'll take on the job in full force," Fisher said. "She's ready for it."

Another top performer, Jackson's training in communications prepared him well for his post with Signal Corps, Sanchez said. At Davidson, Jackson took on the role of company commander, and was in charge of coordinating communications among all the partner schools that feed into the main battalion at UNC Charlotte.

"Jackson was really good at making sure all of the external universities–some of them hundreds of miles apart–were able to communicate," Sanchez said. "Now, he's going to be responsible for the infrastructure of how major brigades and large units communicate in the Army. It's one of the most important jobs there is."

During his time in ROTC, Jackson attended Cadet Initial Entry Training at Fort Knox, a cultural immersion program at the Royal Military Academy in Morocco and completed ROTC advanced camp at Fort Knox. He also studied abroad in Amman, Jordan, in the fall of 2016. He graduated with a bachelor of arts degree in Arabic Studies and will be posted at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, with the 101st Airborne Division after completing the Signal Corps Basic Officer Leadership Course in Fort Gordon, Georgia.

"To be a good leader, a lot comes down to caring about the people underneath you," Jackson said. "Whatever you're trying to do, the product won't be good unless they trust and respect you."

He earned that trust and respect early on with DeShazo, who is confident Jackson will succeed in his new assignment.

"He's always willing to talk, and always willing to listen," DeShazo said.

Immersive Experience

In their first Army posts, French and Jackson will have immersive leadership experiences–much different from the jobs most new graduates find in the civilian sector, Sanchez said.

"We tell our lieutenants as they commission, you have a wealth of experience within your units, so take in that experience, take in those recommendations from personnel in your units that have been there the longest, but at the end of the day, it's on you," Sanchez said. "You're in charge. You're responsible for the task at hand, and it's your decisions that are really going to make it successful or not."

Christina Rogers
chrogers@davidson.edu